The first Famous Dave's BBQ restaurant is no more.
The CEO for the Minnetonka-based restaurant franchise said it "burned to the ground" early Monday in Hayward, Wis.
Initial word is no one was in the building when the fire erupted about 4 a.m., according to company spokesman Richard Pawlowski.
CEO Ed Rensi said the general manager reported to work and saw that a piece of equipment was on fire, prompting a call to 911.
Dave Anderson opened his first Famous Dave's rib shack in Hayward in 1994. Soon after, the company was serving thousands of meals a week in the northwestern Wisconsin town of 1,800.
Famous Dave's said this location, on the grounds of the Grand Pine Resort and on the shore of Round Lake, had been particularly popular with tourists and was one of the most photographed restaurants in Wisconsin. The rustic log building's interior was adorned with antiques and cookbooks.
"It burned to the ground," Rensi said. "It was a very old building, and it's totally destroyed."
Rensi said the restaurant's destruction is "a tragedy for Dave Anderson, for Hayward. It was an iconic building in a wonderful location."
The CEO vowed that Famous Dave's "will do everything it can to rebuild" on that site.
The now-retired Anderson still "works with the franchisees and helps them," Rensi said of the 61-year-old pitchman for the restaurants that have always carried his name. "The man has devoted his life to this company."
Anderson, who was traveling in Nashville, said in a statement released barely four hours after the fire was first detected that he was awakened by a 4:30 a.m. phone call with news of the fire. "Twenty years of memories. We will rebuild."
Wasting no time Monday, Rensi said, the company is mobilizing to "create a restaurant on the go" for Hayward, using tents, supplies and food so Famous Dave's employees will have their jobs heading into the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. Rensi said the effort will take a couple of weeks "to get going."