The reboot at Famous Dave’s of America’s Coon Rapids location has paid off for the struggling restaurant chain.
In the weeks since it was quietly instituted in April, the location has reported a 21 percent increase in traffic and a 16 percent increase in sales.
“With this dramatic increase in sales and traffic, we’re going to polish it up a bit and roll it out,” said CEO Jeff Crivello. “We far exceeded our goals.”
The Minnetonka-based company chose the Coon Rapids location as a pilot because the building’s format is the most common among its 151 locations, making it an easier sell to franchisees. Sixteen of those locations are company-owned, mostly in the Twin Cities.
Maple Grove will be the next corporate-owned store to get a makeover, which should be completed in a few weeks. The Westbury, N.Y., restaurant will be after that.
By October, franchisee-owned stores will be able to start adding some of the new menu items that founder Dave Anderson brought to the table. More than 50 percent of franchisees have expressed an interest in doing so, the company said.
Changes in decor will happen at a slower pace. The Coon Rapids location went from a dark, cabinlike decor to a lighter, brighter roadhouse feel. Even the music changed — from blues to country.
“The previous refreshes in years past didn’t go far enough,” said Geo Concepcion, Famous Dave’s chief operating officer. “This one had more of a Titanic shift instead of a sidestep.”
The barbecue chain needed a kick in its flank. Nearly 50 of its 200 locations have closed and five CEOs bounced in and out of the hot seat in a five-year period. Crivello, who took charge in November, hopes the short-term improvements continue.
The company added 23 new menu items in the refresh, including sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, creamy coleslaw and corn muffin tops. Originally, Crivello said 10 items would make the final cut; now he’s thinking it will be even more because of their popularity.
Out-and-out hits on the new menu, like chicken wings and waffles, may still be tweaked to chicken tenders and waffles, for example. The mac n’ cheese will receive further refinements as the company allows time to get everything in the supply chain.
Guest comments from the surveys have been positive. “They like the music, the food and the atmosphere,” Crivello said. “A lot of them also want the nachos brought back, so we’ll probably do that.”
The items on the test menu that diners can live without? Brussels sprouts bacon-wrapped skewers, cornbread stuffing and a Thanksgiving dinner entree. Turkey will remain on the menu but with optional sides such as sweet potato soufflé.
The company’s menu shows that Famous Dave’s no longer considers itself barbecue exclusive. Warm mini doughnuts, cheese curds and hand-breaded chicken tenders were added and aren’t going anywhere.
“I like that customers are enjoying my mom’s recipe of breaded chicken tenders with a bit of a jalapeño kick,” Anderson said. “Some of the former CEOs got in a time warp trying to preserve our past, but barbecue evolves, and so do I. The new menu and decor are a testament to moving forward.”
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633