Before the pandemic, many chain restaurants such as Famous Dave’s were focused on downsizing big dining spaces and expanding delivery and takeout.

Now BBQ Holdings — which includes Famous Dave’s, Granite City Brewery, Clark Crew BBQ and Real Urban Barbecue — has signed a 25-unit development agreement with Lake Forest, Calif.- based Bluestone Hospitality Group.

The partnership allows Famous Dave’s to expand further to open ghost kitchens and dual restaurant concepts with Bluestone’s Italian brand Johnny Carino’s.

“This hits on the targets of efficiency we’ve been working on for the last three years, but COVID accelerated it,” said Jeff Crivello, chief executive for BBQ Holdings. “The big box isn’t the future. It’s about a smaller box and less labor.”

A “ghost kitchen” is when a restaurant shares kitchen space with another restaurant for delivery, takeout or catering without its name being on the building or the menu.

Once the name appears on the exterior or the menu, then a ghost kitchen becomes a dual concept.

“Our goal is to have all of the 25 locations convert to dual, but the reality is that half may convert to dual concept,” Crivello said.

The closest Johnny Carino’s locations to the Twin Cities are in Fargo and Bismarck, N.D., and in Sioux Falls.

Bluestone, which owns three Famous Dave’s franchised locations, also franchises with Burger King, On the Border, Popeye’s and Hilton Hotels. It owns and manages Johnny Carino’s.

“Famous Dave’s leadership team … understands the importance of evolving in light of changing consumer preferences, and we saw a formula for success to enhance our existing restaurant footprint,” said Allan Gantes, leader of Bluestone Hospitality, in a statement. “It’s a period of unprecedented change in the industry, and demand for off-premises sales has dramatically increased.”

Gantes started the franchise partnership with Famous Dave’s in 2005.

Large and small restaurants have adopted ghost kitchens, including It’s Just Wings operating in Maggiano’s and Chili’s kitchens, St. Paul’s Moonflower Pizza in the French Hen Cafe and Wing Squad in Buca di Beppo in Minneapolis.