Adam Wright has been cleaning up a mess since he became interim chief executive of Famous Dave's of America in June. Now, he's got the job full time.
Minnetonka-based Famous Dave's announced Monday that its new CEO is Wright, a 37-year-old founding partner of Minneapolis-based Blue Clay Capital Management, which has been a major investor in Famous Dave's since 2013.
Wright will be Famous Dave's fourth CEO in the last four years, replacing Ed Rensi, who abruptly quit in June after just over a year in the job.
Rensi's attempts to turn around the stagnant firm backfired and Famous Dave's sales and profits have tanked during the past two quarters. So has its stock, which closed Monday down 14 cents at $6.86, a low not seen in more than five years and well short of its $30-plus perch last January.
Wright said his task in winning back customers is straightforward.
"We are going to keep focusing on giving the guests a better experience at our restaurants," he said.
With about 180 restaurants in 33 states, Famous Dave's is particularly well known in the Twin Cities. Starting in 2013, four hedge funds started snapping up Dave's shares. Blue Clay was among them.
Representatives of two other funds with big positions in Famous Dave's recruited Rensi, a longtime senior executive at McDonald's.
Rensi made big changes to the company's menu and stores, trying to make them more attractive to millennials. But franchisees weren't keen on the changes. Neither were customers.
Famous Dave's reported a terrible second quarter in August, and the company — by then being shepherded by Wright — blamed Rensi for everything from introducing smaller portions to changing plateware and altering the cornbread recipe.
Famous Dave's financials bombed during the third quarter, too.
Now, Wright said the old plateware is back, portion sizes have been restored and the company is getting back to barbecue basics, including a new brisket offering.
"We've focused on the food experience and undid a lot of the changes Ed made," he said.
In October, Wright brought back company founder "Famous" Dave Anderson in a consulting role, aiming to rebuild the company's culture and improve its food. Anderson hadn't been in active management for 12 years and had a low-profile role in the company's marketing until exiting completely in early 2014.
"We are impressed with the steps Adam has taken to move the business forward since his appointment as interim CEO six months ago," Joseph Jacobs, Famous Dave's chairman, said in a press statement. "As a longtime investor, he understands the challenges that the company faces and the opportunities ahead."
Wright's familiarity with Famous Dave's goes back a ways. His brother, Mike Wright, is a longtime Famous Dave's franchisee and owns five restaurants in the Upper Midwest. Adam Wright worked as a senior analyst at Minneapolis-based Whitebox Advisors, which held a significant stake in Famous Dave's for a few years after the 2008 financial bust.
Before Whitebox, Wright worked at UnitedHealth Group and Goldman Sachs. Wright, whose father, Michael Wright, was a longtime CEO at Supervalu, is a graduate of Dartmouth College and has a master's degree from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
After Whitebox, Adam Wright co-founded Blue Clay with Gary Kohler and Brian Durst. Blue Clay owns about 6 percent of Famous Dave's shares. As of Sept. 30, Famous Dave's was Blue Clay's third largest holding, then worth about $5.5 million, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
Wright, who has shuffled back and forth between Blue Clay and Famous Dave's in recent months, said he will make his office at Dave's headquarters. That's a departure from Rensi, who primarily worked from an office in suburban Chicago, where he lived and where Famous Dave's has several outlets.
As of Monday, Wright will have no involvement in Blue Clay's provision of investment advisory services to its own funds, including with respect to Famous Dave's, according to an SEC filing.
"I am going to be focusing my business efforts on Famous Dave's," Wright said.