Make no (rib) bones about it: Famous Dave, he ain’t.
If asked, Dave Anderson, founder of the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based barbecue chain that carries his name, will tell you he’s moved on since parting with the 184-unit Famous Dave’s in March 2014.
Anderson, who calls the Twin Cities home, has been spending a lot of time in the small town of Hayward, Wisconsin, where in mid-April he opened Jimmie’s Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse, a 65-seat barbecue joint with a “simple, authentic” feel.
Named Jimmie’s after Anderson’s barbecue-fan father, the fast-casual concept has been buzzing with barbecue lovers since day one.
“We have literally had lines out the door every day,” Anderson says.
That door tends to close early, however, as the place runs out of food most nights between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. The concept has yet to nail down how much food to order to meet the high demand.
“(Customers) tell me it’s the best barbecue I’ve ever done,” he says. “We have people traveling from two to three states away—folks from way up in northern Wisconsin, Illinois, Canada, Minnesota. That’s the thing about barbecue—if you have a good barbecue, people will talk about it, and they’ll drive long miles for it.”
Putting the Low (and Slow) in Local
With a menu that boasts many barbecue classics—among them: brisket, chopped chicken, pulled pork and smoked sausage—Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse’s hands-on approach is what separates it from the pack, Anderson says. Its meat is hand-trimmed in-house, smoked “low and slow” over sweet maplewood and “served right from the pit to the table.”
While nothing is prepared to order—ribs and chicken are smoked for four to five hours, while brisket and pork butts spend around five hours in the smoker—the food is ready to serve when customers arrive.
Every item on the menu has been Anderson’s “lifelong passion,” but a particular point of pride is his restaurant’s use of whole spare ribs, which he says yield juicier ribs than the St. Louis cut used at many concepts. Because less trimming and handling is involved, Anderson says he can offer whole spare ribs at a more accessible price than certain other cuts.
Diners, whose checks average between $12 and $14 during the lunch daypart and $14 and $16 at dinner, can order as many ribs as they’d like at $11.99 a pound, and if they’re still hungry, choose from a variety of comfort-inspired sides, including three kinds of slaw, mashed potatoes, and mac and cheese. For those seeking a little brew with their ‘cue, craft and domestic beer is available, in addition to red and white wine.
Items can be purchased for dine-in or carryout, and catering orders make up a large portion of the business as well.
Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse is making local ingredients and traceable sourcing a priority. “We’ve tried to do everything locally sourced,” Anderson says. “We’re using Wisconsin cheeses, and our pigs are sort of local, from Minnesota—we’re paying more attention to where we get our pigs from.”
He’s found diners are clamoring for those tried-and-true ingredients. In spite of the concept’s high traffic, its set-up enables guests—who line up to place their orders at a counter—to be served quickly.
“When people come in, they get to choose the meat and how much they want, and we’ll cut it off,” he says. “We are almost like the Chipotle of barbecue.”
A Food “Religion” Catches Fire
Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse is more than just Anderson’s latest venture; it’s a culmination of his longtime passion for the pit.
While growing up on the west side of Chicago, Anderson was introduced to barbecue by his father, a “full-blood Choctaw Indian from Idabel, Oklahoma,” where made from scratch, home cooking and barbecue are a religion, Anderson says. “(After they were married), my dad actually used to haul my mom down south every other weekend until she learned to ‘cook Southern.’”
His father, an electrician, kept a pulse on the “real” barbecue joints around the city. “My Dad … knew the pitmasters by name,” Anderson says. “He also knew where the empty parking lots were that hosted some old-timer with a 55-gallon barrel drum that would smoke up a storm.”
The ribs they bought from those local spots were usually slathered in a homemade sauce and wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper, a no-frills authenticity Anderson seeks to emulate in his own recipes.
“I always knew my family was different because back then, when other kids on the block were going out for dinner—they were always going out for pizza and burgers,” he says. “My dad would load us up in the family station wagon and we were going out for real, pit-barbecued ribs.”
One Smoking-Hot Concept
The secret to success in the restaurant industry is simple, Anderson says. “If you’re going to build a successful business, you first need to build it with good people, and you have to love what you’re doing.”
While Anderson says it was easy to find energetic barbecue enthusiasts to staff his restaurant, extensive training prior to the opening and daily reinforcement have allowed him to keep employees engaged and at the ready.
That’s a good thing, too, as his staffing needs are likely to increase later this year. He plans to open a second Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, this summer, and if all goes well, a third location not long after.
Still, it’s the barbecue lifestyle, not just the business side, that’s kept him engaged with the barbecue community. “Barbecue is not a business for me—it’s a way of life,” he says. “If you were to cut off my arms, barbecue sauce would come pouring out.”