People always ask if there is a real Dave behind Famous Dave’s. There is. His name is Dave Anderson. He’s just a regular guy. A regular guy who happens to be a living and breathing barbeque encyclopedia. A regular guy who’s spent more than half his life going back to the drawing board in pursuit of barbeque perfection. A regular guy who only approves menu items that are worth driving one hundred miles for. Yep, Dave’s just a regular guy.
It all started when he was just a kid in Chicago. Dave’s dad would bring ribs home from work in his lunch pail, which were smoked by street corner vendors in 55-gallon barrels filled with charcoal and hickory wood. That was as real (and as good) as it gets, and Dave never forgot.
Dave spent the next 25 years obsessing over what made the best barbeque. His quest took him to the most hallowed barbeque shrines. From the neighborhood storefront shacks in Memphis, Kansas City and Chicago to the backwoods smokehouses in the foothills of Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee, the Carolinas, and even on to the huge mesquite pits of Texas. He visited thousands of these barbeque shacks, getting to know the owners and soaking up what experience and insight they would share.
After every trip, Dave came home with more knowledge and more ideas about how to make the best sauce. He spent endless hours grinding and tasting fresh herbs and spices. He’d try them in different combinations with fruit juices, molasses and other natural ingredients. He’d boil and sauté them in different oils. He’d hold them in his mouth until his taste buds told him every last detail about the flavor.
With thousands of pots of sauce and countless all-night cooking sessions, he perfected the best barbeque sauce his friends and family had ever tasted. They would eventually become the original five award-winning sauces featured at every Famous Dave’s restaurant today.
Dave also knew there was only one way to cook ribs. It wasn’t parboiling or baking; that just took away the flavor. No, really authentic barbeque meant you had to first hand-rub each slab with a blend of southern spices, slow-cook ‘em in a pit of smoldering hickory, and then char-grill them to caramelize the sauce and enhance the flavors and textures.
Dave incorporated all that he learned to craft his own signature creations that he served to friends and family at his backyard barbeque. He’d listen to what they liked and what they didn’t like, and he kept making it better because he wanted to fulfill his dream of having his own BBQ shack somewhere.
That dream came true in 1994, in a newly built Adirondack Lodge on Big Round Lake in Hayward, Wisconsin. It was going to be called “Dave’s Famous BBQ,” but due to a mix-up with the sign it read “Famous Dave’s BBQ.” That was a challenge Dave wanted to try and live up to, so he kept it.
Well, Dave’s first restaurant certainly did become famous. Some nights over 1,000 guests would come in to taste the ribs at “Famous Dave’s BBQ Shack.” People would make the trek from the Twin Cities just to smell the ribs cooking.
In 1995, Dave found the perfect place to open a true Southern roadhouse shack in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis. It was a quaint, hidden gem, but it didn’t stay secret for long. Once again, people would drive from all over to discover what made this genuine barbeque so famous. And once again, they would ask Dave when he was going to bring a shack to their neighborhood.
It wasn’t just guests who loved his BBQ. In 1995, Famous Dave’s won 1st place at the American Royal Barbeque Sauce Contest in Kansas City, Missouri—the largest and most prestigious barbeque contest in the world! More and more awards, honors and rave reviews followed (See the most recent ones here).
Currently, there are about 200 Famous Dave’s restaurants all over America (and Canada)! Despite the success, Dave still makes sure a visit to Famous Dave’s is like coming over to his own backyard for a friendly BBQ. That hasn’t changed. You just have to look at the “All-American BBQ Feast” that comes served on a garbage can lid. Dave used to smoke his first ribs in a garbage can and if there were a group of people coming over, he’d just flip the lid over and serve the ribs right off it.
It doesn’t get much more authentic than that.