If you want to know more about the kind of corporate support you can expect from our BBQ franchise, you might as well go straight to the top. Al Hank, Senior VP of Operations for BBQ Holdings, Famous Dave’s parent company, plays a major role in helping new BBQ Franchise Owners find their groove and gain the confidence they need to succeed in their business, as well as motivating veteran Famous Dave’s BBQ Franchise Owners to reach new heights, both in terms of quality of service and revenue potential.
We sat down with Al for an interview to hear more about the Famous Dave’s BBQ franchise training process, the level of corporate support a BBQ Franchise Owner can expect, and what’s next for our ever-evolving BBQ franchise concept.
Q: What is your professional background, both with the Famous Dave’s BBQ franchise and in general?
A: This is always my favorite part! (Laughs) I’ve been with Famous Dave’s for over 15 years. I started with them in high school- I just really wanted to buy a car at 17 years old. I had worked a couple of odd-end things before, mostly construction, which stopped with school.
Q: How did you first learn about the Famous Dave’s BBQ franchise?
A: Famous Dave’s showed up by the highway by my house. I got an interview, and I got hired on the spot, I felt like the king of the world! Later I came to find out that EVERYBODY gets hired at a new restaurant opening. (Laughs) I started working there and quickly fell in love with the brand and the industry.
Q: What is it that you love about Famous Dave’s BBQ?
A: I love the aspect of the core scratch authentic kitchen and being able to stand by that when dealing with guests in a restaurant and- just the people themselves, I felt the sense of family.
Q: How did you work your way up to Senior VP of Operations at Famous Dave’s?
A: I always was great at school but didn’t care about school. I graduated on a Thursday and went into management the following Monday and then the rest was kind of history. I quickly moved through the ranks and became the youngest General Manager at 22, multi-unit Operations Manager at 26, and continued to play different roles for various teams in the organization.
Q: What does your current role consist of?
A: In my role right now, I’m really tasked with strategic vision and the outlook of the company from 30 days, 90 days, 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years. I’ve led the pieces of small footprints, menu items, IT team, marketing, catering, and our training department. I get to work with just about everybody and their talented leaders, and really, my job is to make sure that people are collaborating and working towards the key goals that I feel are going to run our business forward at that time.
Q: What do you feel is the biggest asset you bring to the Famous Dave’s BBQ franchise organization?
A: There’s no position that I haven’t worked, and as I say in most of my meetings at various conferences, I tell people that I hope that if nothing else, what I bring to the team is credibility. There’s no shift, position, or guest that you have dealt with that I haven’t experienced firsthand. This puts me in a unique position because I can always relate to any level or any person on my team that I’m working with. I can guide them or provide alternative solutions to accomplish a goal.
Q: What qualities do you look for in a Famous Dave’s BBQ Franchise Owner?
A: I think it starts first with a passion for hospitality and for service. I tell my teams all the time that the most important thing I care about is people. There is nothing more important in any industry than people. My success that I’ve had and I’ve been very lucky and I’m grateful, it hasn’t been predicated on my ability, it’s on my team’s success to achieve greatness. A key characteristic is that they have a passion for people and the hospitality industry. You can serve the greatest food in the world but if you provide poor service/no service then they’re going to have that negative connotation with the brand. It’s all about people.
Also, a prospective Franchise Owner should have an understanding of our business, or of business in general. It’s important to have business acumen. There are times that people come in and they don’t have that business acumen and think if they can get the check, they’ll become a restaurateur and it becomes bad quickly.
I also look for someone who has a passion for growth – I think it’s really important and we’re looking for strategic partners who are looking at long-term visions of 20 years who want to grow or expand in existing markets.
Finally, I look for someone that’s adaptable – Our world is changing every day. My 30-day outlook 30 days ago looked a lot different than it does now! It’s a shift- how consumers are engaging with restaurants is different than 12-24 months ago, for obvious reasons. A Franchise Owner has to be willing to test different things – we’re redefining the restaurant industry right now as we speak, and what the industry looks like 5-10 years from now. Convenience is king and our world is ever-evolving. We need someone to have an understanding that we are going to have to continue to meet consumer demands.
Q: What makes the Famous Dave’s BBQ franchise opportunity unique?
A: I think what sets us apart is really our history – we have a story, we have a Founder, we have somebody who toured the country for 25 years. If you ask Dave Anderson, “How did you get into BBQ?” the first thing he says is, “I didn’t get into BBQ, I was born into BBQ.” His childhood is about his father coming home every day with his BBQ leftovers, his father taking his mother down South, and learning all of the BBQ concepts. It really is unique!
We are an authentic scratch kitchen that provides a high quality of service for all of the guests that walk in the door. We were founded on food that is unique, and the ability to have so many items on our menu and still be a scratch kitchen after all these years continues to make us unique.
Also what makes us unique for a Franchise Owner- from a business perspective, is that our revenue was 50% off-premise pre-Covid, which is a lot of takeout and third-party delivery. This has always been a big proponent of our business. Almost every single Famous Dave’s location has a separate dedicated takeout entrance. When we were building 25 years ago, we were already set up for this off-premise boom. We were already poised for success.
Q: Tell us about the smaller QSR and ghost kitchen prototypes and how they will translate to potential profitability for Franchise Owners.
A: With our small prototype, we can continue on with higher AUVs in a smaller location, reduce occupancy cost, total labor, and total operating expenses to drive a more profitable business, but still provide that in-store business experience while continuing to meet the off-premise demands.
Q: How is your extensive experience with takeout and delivery beneficial to Franchise Owners?
A: We are 25+ years having this experience in the off-premise to-go world. We have all the packaging and everything you can think of- we’ve already defined it and figured it out. Now we are really working on the tech aspect of it with kiosks, mobile ordering, etc. We’re able to interact with a consumer in the way that they choose to interact with us, so we’re really able to meet the demands of whatever these might be. We’re already really set up for this success.
Al Hank and the rest of our corporate team are poised to bring Famous Dave’s BBQ to a whole new legion of fans, thanks to new counter-service and line-service QSR prototypes, in addition to our exciting new ghost kitchen option. By being proactive and having an unusually nimble franchise model, Famous Dave’s BBQ has been able to successfully pivot from a casual dining concept fueled by its fun, never-ending BBQ party atmosphere to a highly-efficient grab-and-go QSR, all without missing a beat or sacrificing its commitment to delicious, high-quality pit BBQ, made-from-scratch sides, and award-winning signature sauces.
Hungry for more? Check out FamousFranchising.com for the inside track on our BBQ franchise opportunity, as well as info on how to check your eligibility to open a Famous Dave’s BBQ right in your backyard!