The Untold Truth Of Famous Dave's

With barbecue so good that customers don't mind devouring it from a trash can lid, Famous Dave's smokehouse succulence blends with a Southern-roadhouse style that's kept "Famous" Dave Anderson famous since 1994.

Having expanded to over 180 locations nationwide, the story of Famous Dave's is a tale that rises from barbecue obscurity. Starting when their first Famous Dave's sprouted in the Upper Midwest — a place not previously known for their hickory, mesquite, or brisket, but loaded with the potential for smoked-meat market share.

Through Anderson's vision, Famous Dave's succeeded in their pursuit. Blazing a charcoal trail through America's Dairyland that brought the best of Southern BBQ to the rest of the country. Although the journey would suffer through some financial pitfalls, Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que became the culmination of a mission that began long before 1994. Before Anderson was famous, back when his love for barbecue first became an obsession.

"Famous" Dave Anderson fell in love with BBQ growing up in Chicago

Dave Anderson grew up away from traditional barbecue epicenters, but nonetheless sparked a passion for it when his father would arrive home with barbecue from Chicago street vendors. Prepared in a Southern style, the competitive Chi Town barbecue scene featured massive smokers, serving up spare ribs so tasty that their consumption became an Anderson family tradition. 

It could've been the familial bond, the savory smoked food, or both. But Anderson had found his calling and it was calling him to next-level barbecue. A passion stoked in those South Side smokers that burned brighter and brighter, until he would finally quench it with his future franchises. 

Thanks to his father's fateful meal-time decisions, Anderson had found his North Star. From that point forward, Anderson would embark on a journey that would bring bona fide barbecue to the rest of the country.

Dave Anderson was a struggling high school student

Brilliant at barbecue, Anderson wasn't always considered the same in school. He languished through grades 9-12, eventually finding himself near the bottom of his class. Struggling with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) at a time when it wasn't often recognized, Anderson pressed on through the hardships and the bullying and survived high school. Pushing through an adverse experience that he would one day attribute to his wild success. 

Ultimately the low marks wouldn't affect his permanent record, because Anderson wasn't anything if he wasn't incredibly ambitious. Or perhaps a better word is obsessed. Obsessed with his calling to barbecue methods and recipes, obsessed with elevating his craft, and obsessed with the process ever since he discovered barbecue in Chicago's South Side.

Anderson's teachers would often chastise him for daydreaming, but if you ask Anderson today, he'd tell you daydreaming is one of his greatest strengths. 

Famous Dave scoured the country tasting BBQ to improve his own recipe

Disciplined, passionate, and hungry, Famous Dave Anderson finally embarked on his adult journey of fulfillment, setting off on a 25-year tour of sampling myriad smoke shacks and discovering what made their low-overhead offerings so special. Anderson's dedicated adventure is how he earned his education in BBQ — absorbing meats, sauces, and cornbreads like a human Wet-Nap. According to Famous Dave's, Anderson sampled from all the barbecue hotbeds: Memphis, Kansas City, Texas, and even the Carolinas. Placing him in prime position to deliver that Famous Dave's punch of flavor that's so beloved today. 

Following that quarter-century of intense barbecue study, Anderson was ready to unleash his skills in the smokehouse. And in 1994, the changing-of-the-BBQ-guard began when Anderson renovated an eight-cabin resort and opened up his first Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que franchise. Ready to show the world that his pit-master experience would make winners of us all.

Famous Dave's first location was opened in Wisconsin

Picking the Badger State first for barbecue? That's a bold choice. Cheese curds? Sure. Cheese anything? That'll most likely work. But this region was not BBQ-renown when Dave Anderson opened his inaugural location. Given that opening any restaurant is a risky endeavor, the fact that Anderson made things work in the Dairy Belt stands as testament to his transcendent abilities. 

With his battle-tested barbecue palate, Famous Dave was ready to reveal the process that would earn him the moniker. Opening the first Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que Shack in Hayward, Wisconsin, back in the grunge-rock era of 1994.

Tall odds faced Anderson once again, and once again he did not buckle. Instead he delivered and quickly relinquished the label of culinary outcast. By starting up something big in a small place, Anderson proved his recipes were up to any gastronomic challenge. Arguably the best indicator pointing to Famous Dave's rapid expansion.

Famous Dave's has won over 700 awards for his barbecue

Decorated like a barbecue war general, Famous Dave has earned more accolades than most in the smoked-meat game. A firm believer in pre-emptive hand-rubbing, Famous Dave's hit recipes have proven resonant, evergreen, and have remained deliciously dominant.

The awards are impressive by accomplishment, and tantalizing by name. Laurels such as "People's Choice for Best Ribs in America," a first-place finish in The American Royal Barbecue Sauce Contest, and another top sauce finish in the Best In The West Nugget Rib Cook Off are just a few of Famous Dave's appetite-inducing honors.

This prolific medal count once again reflects Anderson's dedication to the craft shining through his Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que brainchild. A byproduct of studying the greatest smokehouse establishments and following his culinary dreams with unrelenting passion. Anderson's greatness is also contagious, as other members of the Famous Dave's team have collected awards as well.

Famous Dave was elected to the Native American hall of fame

Dave Anderson has been magnanimous with more than barbecue. A Native American of Ojibwe and Choctaw tribe descent, Anderson uniquely understands the struggles many young Native Americans may face in school and within their communities. 

Proud of his heritage and proud to give back, Anderson has joined several boards and bureaus in an aim to make a difference. He's headed the Bureau of Indian Affairs and chaired several boards that aim to help minority businesses. It's a list of giving back that continues to grow as Anderson continues making equal strides in philanthropy as he has in business. 

For these philanthropic feats (and many more), Anderson's work was recognized by the Native American community, and he was enshrined into the Native American hall of fame on November 8th, 2021 by Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. 

Famous Dave's original location burned down

Twenty years past its inception, Famous Dave's first location on Round Lake in Hayward, Wisconsin was lost to fire in the middle of the night in late 2014. Fire crews rushed to the scene but it was a conflagration beyond suppression, with flames licking up to 50 feet into the air, according to Kare11 NBC. Luckily nobody was inside or near the restaurant at the time of the incident, but the loss still weighed heavy as this incident occurred just shy of the Holiday season, leaving 60 employees in the immediate lurch.

The fire and its resultant destruction wouldn't serve as the establishment's lone tragic loss for 2014. Later that year, Famous Dave Anderson would part ways with Famous Dave's, citing disagreements in the executive level's approach to business, and would later start up yet another new barbecue joint of his own.

Dave Anderson left Famous Dave's and started Jimmie's Old Southern Smokehouse BBQ

If you've ever been tastily blindsided by a place called Jimmie's Old Southern Smokehouse BBQ, then you once again have Dave Anderson's culinary ingenuity to thank.

Years of tension between Anderson and the company he started ran hot well before the fire. According to Franchise Times, Anderson disagreed with the company's direction on multiple fronts, and was displeased by how they catered to Wall Street. Unable to recognize his own creation, there was no better place for Anderson to go than someplace new. He didn't suddenly forget how to cook, so once the smoke cleared (and the non-compete clause expired), the smokehouse returned.

Anderson and the Famous Dave's brass would soon settle their differences and incorporate Jimmie's Old Southern Smokehouse BBQ under the Famous Dave's flagship. 

Famous Dave's had been struggling in recent years

The mid-2010s for Famous Dave's were not banner years. Starting in the second quarter of 2013's fiscal year, revenue at Famous Dave's ticked down consistently, quarter-after-quarter. This poor performance led to location closures across the country, plunging their stock price to below $5 per share.

Famous Dave's was backed into a corner and had to find a way out. Putting aside differences to pivot into the future, Famous Dave's brought Anderson back on in 2015, a year after they diverged. They unveiled a new parent company, BBQ Holdings, in 2019 and shook up their floor plans. As the changes started to take hold, the future of the company rebounded.

Anderson has since focused on getting his new BBQ chain, Jimmie's Old Southern Smokehouse Barbecue, to take off under the BBQ Holdings brand. But pandemic-related shifts to the economy have changed the restaurant game, and Anderson has pivoted toward running a show with quicker turnaround times and a more convenient drive-thru.

Famous Dave's parent company has been buying up other chains

A big part of Famous Dave's revival came through restructuring themselves beneath their new parent company, BBQ Holdings. Under the new arrangement, BBQ Holdings has brought back a healthier bottom line through several acquisitions. According to Nation's Restaurant News, the barbecue conglomerate acquired Granite City Food & Brewery, as well as the barbecue restaurant Real Urban.

Saving Granite City Food & Brewery from bankruptcy, BBQ Holdings plans on keeping their acquired brewery chain recognizable, while allowing for Granite City Food & Brewery offerings to find their way onto Famous Dave's menu, per Nation's Restaurant News.

Revived from the brink of bankruptcy themselves, BBQ Holdings and Famous Dave's continue to survive by adapting to the evolving consumer landscape. As the world emerges changed after a pandemic, BBQ Holding's biggest flex in corporate muscle may have been their push to acquire several sit-down buffet chains.

Are they getting into the buffet business?

According to Restaurant Business, BBQ Holdings purchased a handful of buffet brands in October 2021. Winning a bankruptcy auction that yielded Fresh Acquisitions, the owner of several defunct buffet chains, including Old Country Buffet.

But would BBQ Holdings choose to revive them? According to Restaurant Business the answer was no. Quoting CEO Jeff Crivello "We have no immediate plans to reopen any of the buffet brands... Those are just IP that came alongside the transaction." Instead, the focus of the deal was Tahoe Joe's, a small chain of steakhouses in California. Famous Dave's does plan to add some menu items from the steakhouse to their repertoire. All told, a lot of dough was thrown to acquire these companies, so it's fair to assume that bold moves toward their consumer-facing future have been contemplated.

Fans may have jumped the gun on their hopes for a Famous Dave's BBQ buffet, or anything equivalent, but if you're truly a fan of the chain, these acquisitions should still look promising. The moves signaling perhaps a nod to a different future than anticipated, but a future for Famous Dave's nonetheless.

They joined the ghost kitchen movement

Keeping pace with a changing landscape, Famous Dave's entered the ghost kitchen trend sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Chicago Tribune, Famous Dave's has started incorporating their offerings into Granite City restaurants and vice-versa. Meaning you can order Granite City brews at select Famous Dave's locations thanks to this concept. In Naperville, Illinois, you'll find a restaurant that runs exclusive of waitstaff, but has a kitchen that's geared up for delivery through third-party apps such as Grubhub or DoorDash.

With inherently less overhead to worry about, Famous Dave's has actually moved closer to their original vision of sticking to low-overhead barbecue if the ghost kitchen trend holds. According to The Chicago Tribune, the Naperville location is the third that's undergone this Famous Dave's fusion experiment, and the company has plans to expand further. Possibly ushering a promising future of low-rent restaurant establishments with an ability to produce Famous Dave's premium barbecue.