Like many others in the casual-dining industry, Famous Dave’s is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
In Q1 through March 25, the chain saw same-store sales grow 9.3 percent compared to the same period last year. Comps lifted 3.2 percent in January, 2.9 percent in February, and 43.9 percent in March, which laps the period when the pandemic began to take shape.
It’s a notable improvement from the fourth quarter when same-store sales slipped 5.5 percent. Q4 began on a positive note with comps rising 2 percent in October. However, in Minnesota, where the company is based, indoor dining was closed from November to January. A handful of other major markets closed dining rooms, as well, because of rising COVID cases. As a result, same-store sales sank 5.4 percent in November and 10.4 percent in December. In the quarter, 59 percent of dining rooms were closed at one point.
Granite City Food and Brewery, which was acquired in 2020, experienced similar rebounds, albeit at a slower pace. In Q4, comps lowered 40.7 percent—negative 23.8 percent in October, negative 38.7 percent in November, and negative 52.3 percent in December. At the time, 50 percent of dining rooms were fully closed. But in Q1, same-store sales slid just 10.6 percent, or negative 29 percent in January, negative 26.3 percent in February and a 60.8 percent leap in March.
A year has made a major difference for Famous Dave’s, which was forced to furlough roughly 85 percent of its workforce, and shift its focus to cash management and an off-premises only model. But the chain has adapted appropriately. In October, the restaurant announced a 25-unit deal with Bluestone Hospitality Group to open ghost kitchens and dual restaurant brands with Johnny Carino’s. CEO Jeff Crivello said that during the testing phase, the add-on resulted in $500,000 to $1 million in digital sales for individual locations.
BBQ Holdings, the parent of Famous Dave’s, Granite City, Real Urban Barbecue, and Clark Crew BBQ, currently oversees five corporate Famous Dave’s ghost kitchens inside Granite City stores and six franchisee ghost kitchens inside another restaurant location or shared kitchen space. It also has 145 brick-and-mortar stores in 31 states and three countries, including 47 company-run stores and 98 franchised units.
Pushing innovation even further, Famous Dave’s is opening its first line-service model restaurant in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, in September. The store will open in partnership with DTSG, one of Famous Dave’s legacy franchisee groups. The next step after that will be adding a drive-thru.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the way the team came together and worked tirelessly to adapt,” Crivello said in a statement. “We leveraged our deep off- premise knowledge pool and found new solutions for delivering great food to the communities we love.”