Famous Dave's of America Inc. on Wednesday begins an experiment in the look and menu of its Maple Grove location that could reset everything about the barbecue chain.
The company is bumping up the flavor at the restaurant, using bolder colors in the decor, presenting a clearer takeout area and even a new logo for Wilbur the pig.
"We're doing some things differently based on what our customers want," said Alfredo Martel, chief marketing officer. "It's a refresh, but barbecue isn't meant to be slick. If it's not on you, it's not right."
The remodeling will also happen next month at a location in Bloomington. The restaurants are getting new menu items after founder Dave Anderson's recent win on Destination America's reality show called "Smoked," a barbecue competition. The company added boar sausage sliders, boar sausage links, a Zesty Pork Loin and Blue Ribbon Broccoli Salad, all created during the competition.
Dave's also added salads with turkey and smoked salmon, but Martel said Famous Dave's is not turning into a salad joint. "It's healthy with an attitude," he said.
Anderson himself gets a fresh look in the remodeling. On photos for the "Wall of Fame," he's dressed in black and wears a fedora. "He's the B.B. King of barbecue," Martel joked.
Anderson says the look hearkens back to his youth on the south side of Chicago. "Chicago is where the barbecue and blues in me comes from," he said at a preview Tuesday evening.
Anderson, the founder and now a creative consultant to the culinary team and staff, remains front and center in the brand. The company is trying to tell a story in a more direct way, often with gentle humor. The takeout counter has a flying pig, the exit sign reads "Until we meat again" and staff T-shirts sport slogans such as "Our pitmasters do it low and slow," "Get sauced" and "Barbeque means never having to say you're hungry."
The reset comes at a time when sales are declining at many casual food chains including Famous Dave's, Ruby Tuesday, Chili's and Applebee's. Sales fell 14 percent in the second quarter at Famous Dave's. Earlier this year, CEO Adam Wright told analysts, "We are determined to turn around the performance of this company."
Wright was saddled with customer backlash after former CEO Ed Rensi reduced portion sizes and overhauled the menu, dropping its popular cornbread.
The new format is designed to appeal to diners on the go, who often prefer a faster approach found in convenience stores, grab-and-go sections in supermarkets, and meal delivery services.
The takeout area, for example, will be more carefully defined. Famous Dave's still has a mixture of shack order-at-the-counter locations and full-service formats with waitstaff, but all will include an improved area for takeout.
Famous Dave's earlier revamped its lunch menu for value and added a Slowdown Lowdown special on Wednesdays for $11, $14 and $18. On Sundays, customers can get four pieces of fried chicken, a side dish and cornbread for $10.
The chain has 178 restaurants in 32 states, Puerto Rico, Canada and United Arab Emirates, down from 200 in 2012.
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633