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Kupchella interview: 'Famous Dave' Anderson


Restaurateur Dave Anderson, more commonly referred to as "Famous Dave," opened his first restaurant in a small Wisconsin city less than two decades ago. Since then, Anderson has grown the Famous Dave's chain to nearly 200 restaurants, netting $500 million in annual sales.

During last week's Smile Network event, Anderson told BringMeTheNews CEO Rick Kupchella that his passion for barbecue was passed on from his father, a Choctaw Indian from Oklahoma.

Anderson, the oldest of three, grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Chicago. Anderson said his father used to haul his mother, a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe in Wisconsin, down south every other weekend to learn the art of southern-style cooking. Eventually, the Anderson's were the first family on the block to own a charcoal grill.

Anderson, who published a book on how to make the most of college among other topics, admits he was a sub-par student who was often sent to the principal's office.

"I was in the bottom half of the class that made the top half possible," Anderson laughed.

Years after high school, Anderson was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.

At age 19, Anderson started his first business selling potted plants to Chicago-area florists until a crippling snowstorm in 1979 limited access to city side streets for months, forcing many businesses to close.

That year, Anderson and his wife relocated to the Twin Cities, where he was recruited by the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe to manage several small businesses in Hayward, Wis. He later opened Grand Casinos.

With no desire to dive into the Indian gaming industry, Anderson opened his first barbecue restaurant in Hayward in 1994. In just a few months, the restaurant was serving between four and five thousand people every week.

The second location, and first in the Twin Cities, opened in the Linden Hills neighborhood of south Minneapolis the very next year.

Anderson vowed to serve the best food and create the best atmosphere at each Famous Dave's by hand-selecting details--down to the beats per minute of every song played in his restaurants.

Success has not come without adversity, Anderson said. By the time he opened his first restaurant, Anderson had gone bankrupt twice and sought treatment for alcohol abuse.

In the process of getting sober, Anderson discovered the secret to success.

American barbecue is becoming more popular across the world, with highly attended rib-fest events held in Toronto and England, Anderson said.

Anderson opened a restaurant in in Puerto Rico in the last few months and in Canada last year. Currently, Famous Dave's locations are cropping up every other week.

The award-winning restaurant was recently named "America's #1 best-loved barbecue joint" by Nation's Restaurant News.

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