Famous Dave's BBQ & Blues Club
Although this Minneapolis restaurant is part of the Famous Dave's barbecue chain of 184 units in 37 states, it's certainly different. The interior is modeled after a street in Chicago, home of founder Dave Anderson, and offers live blues. As part of the Calhoun Square Shopping Center in the popular Uptown district, this is the only Dave's to serve Sunday brunch—a buffet ($17 for adults)—says Charlie Torgerson, company director of culinary.
Chef John Ondo plied his trade at several Charleston, South Carolina, restaurants before he and a partner launched Lana seven years ago. Located in the downtown Eliotborough area, known for its antebellum and Victorian-era structures, this Mediterranean-inspired eatery likes to put an Old World twist on dishes that focus on local ingredients, but does not serve brunch. Favorite dishes include gnocchi ($16 and up) and pear and Gorgonzola salad ($9.50). [Photo by Helen Dujardin.]
I was the kitchen manager at the restaurant 16 years ago, and Sunday business was slow at lunch. Since we have a stage and live music, the manager said, "Let's have brunch." That's how it started. The demographics were also right, because the restaurant is in a good area to walk, so most people are walking or driving a short distance.
I always enjoyed working in restaurants where I had one day off a week. We're near a big medical center, so I knew we had to have lunch Monday through Friday. And Saturday dinner is important, so ... do you use the A team Saturday night and the B team for Sunday brunch or the other way around? You also need to have a separate liquor license for Sunday.
[Brunch] is one of our best sales drivers. It started slow but has grown over the years. We do everything from barbecue to corn pancakes, with an omelet station, carving station and more. It may take a little time to figure out how much food to prepare, how to keep it fresh and how to transition your restaurant seating, but you get that down to a science [in a few weeks].
Everyone needs to rest, even in the restaurant industry. It makes for happier people. There are times when we are short staffed and have to work six days a week, and we would probably work seven if we were open Sunday. I know the margin on a brunch menu can be very good, but this is just better for us. And a buffet doesn't fit our style.
The brunch will always change in that it will continue to get bigger and better. We serve 500 to 600 [people] in a four-hour period. We try to make it nice and relaxing, with the live blues music kicking it up a little. Once in a while, we'll come up with a special from our test kitchen, like corn pudding or a new sauce, and try it there to switch things up a little.
Being dark on Sunday frees us up to do events if we want. Once a year we do a Gospel Brunch (featuring many of the city's top chefs) during the annual Wine and Food Festival the first weekend in March. People choose their chef, and we each serve a three-course meal. We have a lot of fun, but it reminds us what it's like to work without a break.