By Lianna Matt
When Dave Anderson’s sons were still students at Edina High School, there were mornings they woke up at 6 a.m., walk into their kitchen, and got assaulted by the smell of barbecue. Having to move all the pots and pans Anderson had used during an all-nighter barbecue session just to clear off an area for their cereal. Then they would go to school smelling like garlic and onions.
It was a bit of a sacrifice on their social status (at least in their eyes), but what more can you expect when your father is the founder of Famous Dave’s? Barbecue is Anderson’s past, present, and with the addition of a fourth Jimmie’s Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse in Edina, his future. He loves what he does, and he will put in as much time as he needs to deliver the perfect recipe to his customers. Through his hard work, Dave has made his name known as both an individual barbecue master and as a national restaurateur.
“I’m often asked, ‘Dave, how did you ever get into the barbecue business?’” Anderson said, “and I can honestly say I didn’t get into it; rather, I was born into the business. Ever since I was born, I think I had a barbecue rib in my mouth.”
If Anderson sounds hyperbolic to you, if his belief that barbecue is a lifestyle sounds like a cliché, then you had a normal relationship to barbecue growing up. Anderson’s family was obsessed with it. Or at least his dad, whom Jimmie’s Old Southern was named after, was.
While Jimmie Anderson was from Idabel, Oklahoma, or as Dave Anderson put it, a spit away from the Bible belt of barbecue, his wife was from Hayward, Wisconsin. To make sure Jimmie Anderson didn’t lose the flavor of his childhood, he would drive his wife down south almost every other weekend so she would learn southern cooking. Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi—nowhere was too far from their Midwest home. Not when it meant learning how to do barbecue the right way.
“[My dad] would drive all the way down south to buy certain peppers, to buy cornmeal, to buy the right flour to make biscuits,” Anderson said. “In the south, they grow winter wheat. Winter wheat makes better biscuits than flour that’s milled here in the north. My dad knew all of those differences, so getting the right peppers, getting the right syrups … The attention to detail for making great food was really important to him, We have carried his tradition forward at Jimmie’s Old Southern.”
Instead of heading out to eat burgers and pizza when they went out, Anderson and his parents would pile into their family station wagon and head to the south side of Chicago for rib tips. Food might bring people together, but Jimmie Anderson led David to believe barbecue was the ultimate uniter and celebratory food. When you hear David talk about barbecue, he talks of community and afternoons spent together on the patio; he talks of a food that not only fills your stomach but makes you smile. That’s what barbecue done right is all about, and that’s why Dave is so passionate about introducing Jimmie’s Old Southern to Edina Minnesota.
Jimmie Anderson didn’t do anything halfway when it came to the food that meant so much to him, and he passed this passion along to his son. At Jimmie’s Old Southern, the meats are smoked fresh daily, and every item is made from scratch, whether it’s a side item or main dish.
Barbecue has always been a family tradition for “Famous Dave” Anderson, so when he opened up the first Famous Dave’s in his mom’s hometown in 1994, he never wanted it to be a chain. He could have had a hundred restaurants—nearing the end of 2017, the franchise has about 170 locations today—but to be called a chain? In his mind, that’s an “evil word.”
That’s why one of his biggest regrets was making Famous Dave’s a public company. He’s not going to make the same mistake with Jimmie’s Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse. Each location has its own personality and the environment of a family-owned local legacy, where regulars are welcome with a familiar grin, not a generic “How are you?”
“Any business is about the people,” Anderson said, “but when you’re making decisions based on a quarterly report, there are some things you lose passion for.” His passion? Making each restaurant feel like it’s family owned and finding the best possible ingredients for every item on the menu.
Anderson believes the people who achieve the most success are those who push themselves past their limits. It’s about doing what needs to be done even if it’s easier to quit. Instead of focusing on a reward, sometimes it’s about finding grit to get better. When Anderson started competing in barbecue competitions, the prizes were $10, $25 cash prizes, and if he was lucky, a little plastic trophy. All that mattered to him was having fun and testing his mettle against the best in the best. Now barbecuing is almost its own sport, according to Anderson, and his place in it has changed. First he made a barbecue empire; now he wants to make a barbecue home.
At his restaurants, Anderson works to teach his employees the same work ethic that brought him his success. Customers aren’t the only ones Anderson cares about; he wants his employees to grow with him, too. Jimmie’s Old Southern is not only about providing its employees a consistent future but also about being a stepping stone to help them develop their skills.
To Anderson, having it too easy can mean you become complacent, and he doesn’t want his employees to limit themselves. He provides a rigorous leadership program that actually does not make the employees feel good about themselves. Instead, it makes them realize how much they can accomplish when they don’t give up, whether the pressure is coming from their personal life or in the form of a hectic day on the job. With Jimmie’s Old Southern, hectic days do happen, but it’s usually because of a good reason—say, a packed restaurant and a waiting list full of eager customers. After all, on opening day in Edina, Jimmie’s Old Southern line stretched down the street, and even now, when the crowds are particularly hungry, the line goes out the door.
With that kind of demand, Anderson pushes himself and his team, and that—his vision and leadership—is his recipe for success, even more than his award winning barbecue sauces. So really, it’s not much of a surprise “Famous Dave” Anderson might be up all hours of the night working on another recipe. It’s not a surprise he cares so much about the details that go into sourcing the best ingredients for his barbecue meals. It’s not a surprise he cares about not only his customers but his employees and his community. Anderson dreams big, and with Jimmie’s Old Southern, he’s gone all in on making his dream come to life.
“While Famous Dave’s was my life’s dream, I think Jimmie’s Old Southern is the evolution of my life’s passion,” Anderson said. “When Famous Dave’s was first coming to the Twin Cities, there were only three barbecue restaurants. Today, there’s over 50, and they’re still popping up. If we do what we do well; it’s like one [drop] in the ocean. All the ships rise.”