By Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The name on the door is Famous Dave’s, but for years there was no seat at the table for the real Famous Dave.

“I probably haven’t been involved for almost 12 years,” Dave Anderson said.

Anderson embodies the American dream. He grew up in Chicago, started several businesses, then he fell in love with barbecue, and opened his first restaurant in Hayward, Wisconsin in 1994.

“When I first started Famous Dave’s, who thought that we would go through the ups and down? It’s life,” Anderson said.

Famous Dave’s grew quickly and went public. A proud Ojibwe, President George W. Bush asked Anderson to run the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Then, he was essentially cut out of his company.

“It was typical big business for a while. Barbecue isn’t a business. It’s a culture. It’s a lifestyle,” Anderson said.

He said rock bottom was November 2014, when fire ripped through the first Famous Dave in Hayward: gutting the restaurant, and gutting Anderson’s heart.

“The original Famous Dave’s was a lifelong dream. To lose it in a tragic fire, I was watching my entire life go up in smoke,” he said.

At the same time, new management was driving Famous Dave’s into the ground. Analysts have pointed to failures from shortcuts to recipes, and the “McRib” approach to barbecue.

“When they said Dave you gotta come back, I was really excited to come back,” Anderson said.

“Are you back as a PR stunt or are you really making a difference?” asked WCCO reporter Jason DeRusha.

“No, I’m back for good. I’m really excited. We’re getting back to our roots,” he said.

Anderson is helping train management and inspire team members at stores around the country and the world. He’s helped the company open new stores in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates — no pork ribs there.

“We serve lamb ribs and beef ribs, they’re tasty,” he said.

Anderson is helping the company bring back original recipes, like the drunken apples, the Cajun Chicken Sandwich and the famous Cornbread recipe.

“Oh my God, I can’t tell you how many people said, ‘Dave, bring back the cornbread!’ I brought back the original recipe – it’s our most iconic item,” he said.

Anderson said previous management tried to “dumb down” and “simplify” the recipe.

It’s a fitting new chapter for the original Famous Dave.

“I’m really excited, we’re getting back to our roots,” he said.

Jason DeRusha