Emerging Brands

Famous Dave’s preps for its new concept

The company changed its name to accommodate the launch of Clark Crew BBQ.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The parent of the Famous Dave’s barbecue chain has morphed into a new company in anticipation of adding more concepts, starting with the opening next month of the first Clark Crew BBQ.

Clark Crew is a collaboration between Dave’s and Travis Clark, a star of the competitive barbecue circuit who has not previously operated a brick-and-mortar facility. Dave’s has a stake in the venture and its future development, according to Jeff Crivello, CEO of what was formerly Famous Dave’s of America. On Friday, that entity became a wholly owned subsidiary of a newly formed holding company, BBQ Holdings.

The new structure and name position the company to add concepts should opportunities arises, Crivello told Restaurant Business. In a presentation to investors last Thursday, management noted the possibility of acquiring brands “with long runways” that would immediately add to sales and profits, according to a copy posted on Famous Dave’s website. 

The company has been searching for a way of reinvigorating sales and expanding. Systemwide sales for Famous Dave’s have fallen 17% during the past two years, according to Technomic research, and the chain has  shrunk to 134 units in 33 states. 

Clark Crew could be a new growth vehicle. The first is scheduled to open in Oklahoma City in mid-October, Crivello said.

The venture was disclosed last summer. Travis Clark is a major figure on the competitive barbecue circuit, having won 650 awards since 2013. 

Famous Dave’s is also looking to reinvigorate sales by developing a smaller, fast-casual-style concept using the casual-dining chain’s name. In addition to being less expensive to build and operate, the scaled-down Dave’s units would emphasize delivery and takeout. The units will measure 1,500 to 3,000 square feet, compared to the 6,000- to 8,000-square-foot footprint of a full-sized Dave’s store. BBQ anticipates that sales will range from $500,000 to $700,000, according to the chain. 

The franchisor said it will build two company-run small units to demonstrate the favorable economics before expanding through franchising. Meanwhile, a franchisee has been experimenting with a counter-style version of a full-sized Famous Dave’s in what’s apparently another entry into the fast-casual market.  

The brand is also looking at “ghost kitchens,” or production facilities that sell Famous Dave’s-brand food solely for delivery or catering. No seating or branded exterior is included in the facility.

Off-premise business tempered a downturn in dining room traffic at company-operated Famous Dave’s restaurants during the second quarter, according to the franchisor. Takeout sales rose 6.8% on a comparable basis, holding the decline in same-store sales to 0.8%. Comps for franchised stores rose 0.7%.

The reorganization of the company into BBQ Holdings was approved by the board of directors on Friday. Approval by shareholders was not required, according to the surviving company.

There may have been a sense of deja vu. Famous Dave’s of America was named after founder Dave Anderson, an avid competitor on the barbecue circuit who decided to turn his hobby into a restaurant career. He left the company years ago, but had consulted from time to time. He has experimented with his own fast-casual barbecue riff, a concept called Jimmie’s Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse, named after Anderson’s father.

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