Ribs, turkey and sides at Famous Dave's.
Famous Dave's
Famous Dave's remodeled unit posted double-digit sales gains.

Famous Dave's Cooks Up Another BBQ Concept

The brand is preparing to launch a Travis Clark-led upscale chain.

Famous Dave’s has been a blend of innovation and legacy over the course of its turnaround stretch. The barbecue brand’s second-quarter report reflected that strategy and promised more changes, including a fresh concept from its new barbecue star, Travis Clark. 

Famous Dave’s earned $1.4 million in the period that ended July 1. For perspective, it lost roughly the same amount of money in the year-ago segment. Same-store sales at 15 company-run locations boosted 1.2 percent. The 135 franchised restaurants reported comps declines of 1.6 percent. In Q2 fiscal 2017, those numbers were negative 2.2 and 3.2 percent, respectively. The year before, they were down 6.4 and 4.3 percent. Traffic was also up 1.3 percent in the quarter.

READ MORE: Famous Dave’s finds its sweet spot.

But perhaps more notable is what Famous Dave’s has in store. The Minnetonka, Minnesota-based brand connected with Clark in January, tapping him as its newly created “National Pitmaster.” Clark is a Kansas City phenom. The most decorated pitmaster in the Kansas City BBQ Society since 2013, Clark, along with his team, Clark Crew BBQ, won the title of 2017 American Royal Invitational World Champion, and has consecutively won the most KCBS awards in the past four years. This includes: KCBS Team of the Year (2017 and 2015), Rib Team of the Year, and Brisket Team of the Year. Clark’s barbecue journey logged over 160,000 miles, 160 contests, 41 Grand Championship awards, 20 Reserve Grand Championships honors, and 130 top 10 finishes.

Famous Dave’s brought him on to improve consistency across its system, and to help franchisees shore up barbecue tactics and training processes. Chief executive officer Jeff Crivello, who assumed the role in February, has hinted at the possibility of a Clark-led concept for months. At last, Famous Dave’s popped the lid on the upcoming brand Monday afternoon. The restaurant, called Clark Crew BBQ, will open in Oklahoma City in early 2019, with plans to scale. Famous Dave’s doesn’t plan on spreading the brand as fast as its flagship, but said it would rank as “best” in the good-better-best quality scale, per The Star Tribune.

This is hardly the only going-on at Famous Dave’s, either. Crivello said in a release the company is “finalizing the design of our new drive-through concept.” This is also something the barbecue chain has suggested in past months. In its last earnings call, Famous Dave’s spoke of a possible delivery-only model, which could fit in 500–800-square-foot spots compared to the typical 5,000-square-foot box. Crivello told FSR in May that it was looking at everything from renting kitchen spaces to creating walk-up locations in an effort to harness the off-premises momentum seen across the restaurant landscape. Famous Dave’s didn’t provide further details on the drive thru for now.

What the company did report, though, was success with a recently remodeled location in Coon Rapids that signals a sign of things to come. The store reunited Famous Dave’s with its founder, Dave Anderson, who split with the company in 2015 under previous management, to design a unit with a new look and menu that paid homage to its past. The store reported double-digit sales growth, Famous Dave’s said. According to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, Crivello expects to recreate the model in two additional stores—a company-run unit in Maple Grove this summer and another in Westbury, New York. Franchisees would be up next. The Coon Rapids store saw a 16 percent lift in sales, the publication reported.

“We look forward to implementing throughout the system many of the improvements from the successful refresh of our Coon Rapids restaurant,” Crivello said in a statement.

In Q2, Famous Dave’s revenue declined nearly 24 percent to $14.5 million thanks to the closure of nine-company run stores. Consolidated adjusted EBITDA increased 5.5 percent to $2.7 million. The brand had 150 total units as of July 1, which is 26 less than this time a year ago.

Crivello added that the company is looking at ways to boost other channels. “Although catering sales continued to be a challenge, we launched several initiatives during the quarter aimed at growing this line of business,” he said.