Finding the perfect real estate may be a challenge for many full-service restaurants, but Famous Dave’s—a 186-unit, casual-dining barbecue chain based in Minneapolis—is scaling things down to find the solution.

The new Famous Dave’s BBQ Shack, a 3,000-square-foot prototype that allows the brand to scale down its barbecue offerings into a fast-casual setting, helps the brand fill in existing markets and take advantage of a broader range of real estate opportunities.

“It just allows us more flexibility to go into smaller boxes, like a shuttered Wendy’s or KFC or another concept that closed down,” says Brett Larrabee, Famous Dave’s director of franchise development.

The brand already has Shack locations in Eden Prairie, Minnesota; Beaverton, Oregon; and Orange County, California; and a unit in Evergreen Park, Illinois, is set to launch on November 19.

Larrabee says the Shack presents an opportunity to tap into a new consumer segment, too. “There’s a whole cross section of customers that may not even find their way into a full-service Famous Dave’s for a whole host of reasons,” he says. “Maybe they don’t have the time, maybe they don’t want to pay a tip, maybe they just … appreciate the fast-casual concept.”

The Shack also presents an opportunity for multiunit franchisees to expand the scope of their portfolio. Larrabee says many multiunit operators already have burger, Mexican, pizza, and chicken concepts, but not a barbecue concept.

“Barbecue is just one of those market segments that’s not saturated,” he says. “It provides a great opportunity to grow this market segment.”

Though the Shack menu won’t include Famous Dave items like salmon or steak, it offers the core barbecue products the brand is famous for. It will also continue smoking handcrafted meats on premise.

“The menu allows customers to pick and choose their proteins and their sides in an expedient way without having to invest a lot of time perusing the menu,” Larrabee says, adding that most Shack meals are under $10. “It allows them to purchase our products at a price point that is relevant to the fast-casual segment.”

Larrabee says the Shack concept is ideal for Famous Dave’s fans who are time-challenged, value-focused, and don’t have time to invest in full-service meals.

“The biggest difference from the consumer standpoint is just the convenience factor,” he says. “It allows them to get in and out a lot quicker, and it allows us to go into areas that are more densely populated and have maybe higher traffic profiles, like malls, urban centers, and downtown areas.”

While the Shack concept gives the chain more flexibility, it hasn’t been easy to transition to the limited-service world. Larrabee says taking a company that’s accustomed to the full-service mentality and shrinking the design down to 3,000 square feet has been a major challenge.

“We’ve really had to look at things through different eyes to not only have an efficient throughput, but be able to meet the volumes of our Shacks with a smaller, more efficient kitchen design,” he says. “That’s been a work in progress, and we’ve gotten better and better as we open Shacks. I feel that we’re pretty close to the mark at this point as to how we can develop this nationwide.”

The brand hopes to expand its Shack concept into new markets in the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and even Canada.

It’s also well on its way to reaching its goal of opening 50 units over the next 24 months; it just signed a 16-unit deal in California and already has 21 planned units to date.

By Mary Avant

Back of House, Design, Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Growth, Menu Innovations, News, Famous Dave's