Famous Dave’s CEO Jeff Crivello joined the company in November 2017 and has now led it longer than the four executives who came before him—the brand cycled through five executive changes in five years. He says the shift to BBQ Holdings, Inc. was a logical one given that “we have an open mind and we are open to other acquisitions that make sense.”
“That kind of fit that smaller business model,” he adds, referencing Famous Dave’s recent changes to shrink square footage in stores (more on this later). “And we have the resources lined up to do it.”
It goes back to the challenge at hand. Yes, barbecue is about as American as it gets when it comes to cuisine. Yet it’s viewed through the lens of classic, regional venues that turn the lights off when the meat runs out. Roadside shacks. Places that belong to communities and taste profiles that date back generations.
But the good news, Crivello says, is there’s no shortage of such places across the country. In this case, not single-unit landmarks exactly but barbecue brands that have managed to get to three or five units and are locally revered. Maybe they’ve reached their limits, however, in terms of resources to scale.
Those are the concepts Famous Dave’s would be interested in speaking with, Crivello says.
The vision would grant Famous Dave’s a national barbecue network it could bring operating expertise to. Yet one that also has guest support and fandom that many chains chase, but few grab real share in.
There’s another element to the name change as well. Famous Dave’s itself is branching into new territory within its own footprint.
In Q3, the chain signed a lease on a 3,000-square-foot, bar-centric restaurant in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. This kicked off Famous Dave’s small-box initiative in company-run restaurants (it reacquired five franchises in the period and expects to reinvest about $10 million this year to refresh and update corporate units). The restaurant, which features an abbreviated menu, is set to open December 20.
The location isn’t just scaled back; it’s also tech forward (typical units are 6,500—7,000 square feet). The restaurant features tabletop ordering and kiosks. Famous Dave’s plans to have five to 10 of these in the next year or so.
The Uptown model converted from a German brat house. Crivello says the idea is to evolve the spot into a local barbecue joint tailored toward a younger demographic. Hence the bar element. Trivia, game nights, and karaoke will be part of the mix. It will also focus heavily on delivery and catering, which was previously a large aspect of the brand’s former Uptown location.
“We are not tailoring this just to be a counter-serve or a quick-serve model,” he says of the kiosk and tabletop ordering. “We want it to still be comfortable enough where you can feel you can hang out and someone will ask you if you would like another cocktail or another appetizer or a burger or a rack of ribs.”
Famous Dave’s continues to experiment with a fast casual called Real Famous BBQ in Provo, Utah, as well, in addition to ghost kitchens that offer meals under the company’s branding.