Despite faltering sales this year, the Minneapolis-based, 188-unit casual-dining chain still lays claim as the nation’s most established barbecue chain. Founded by barbecue champion Dave Anderson, who built his reputation on ribs, Famous Dave’s offers a smattering of regional dishes, such as Georgia chopped pork, Texas beef brisket and burnt ends, St. Louis-style and baby-back ribs, and hot-link sausage, as well as cedar-plank salmon with pineapple barbecue glaze. Many of those meats are also available in tortilla shells as “urban tacos.”
In 2011, Famous Dave’s started experimenting with Famous Dave’s BBQ Shack, a new fast-casual concept that the company hoped would appeal to consumers on the go. Its smaller footprint would also allow it to open in shopping malls and other locations unsuitable for the full-service restaurant.
The first Famous Dave’s BBQ Shack opened in Eden Prairie, Minn. Since then, units have opened in Oregon, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
This Dallas-based restaurant was founded in 1941 but didn’t start franchising until 1995. Moving slowly at first, Dickey’s opened 66 new restaurants in 2011, bringing it to 203 units. Today it operates 311 restaurants in 39 states.
The fast-casual concept’s signature menu items are brisket and pulled pork served with a sweet tomato paste-based sauce, which also accompanies its Virginia-style ham, marinated chicken breast, turkey breast, Polish sausage, spicy Cheddar sausage and pork ribs. It also offers 10 vegetables, three kinds of bread, two desserts and free ice cream.
Darden Restaurants Inc. founded this chain as Smokey Bones Barbeque in 1999 and struggled with it for eight years, even as it grew to 127 units. The company tweaked it into a more broadly defined casual-dining restaurant, but finally threw in the towel in 2007. It closed 54 restaurants and sold the rest to Sun Capital Partners Inc., which bought the chain for $80 million in 2008. Sun Capital closed seven more units, bringing Smokey Bones to 66 restaurants.
Since then, the chain has returned to its roots somewhat, singling out its in-house smoker as a point of distinction. With the new name Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill, it uses the smoker to cook ribs, brisket, pulled pork, turkey breast, smoked wings and slow-smoked spiced sausages, as well as such non-barbecue items as smoked prime rib, which it launched as a limited-time offer last year.
The chain is also working to beef up its bar program with more craft beers and made-to-order Margaritas.
Smokey Bones currently has restaurants in Florida, Georgia, Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Indiana, Illinois and Washington, D.C.