Dave Anderson

Famous Dave Hall of Fame inductee

By Christian Toews
February 1, 2022

Many might be familiar with Famous Dave’s barbeque. With locations across the United States and worldwide, this restaurant is a favorite among barbecue lovers. However, most probably do not know that Famous Dave’s started as a small restaurant owned by a Choctaw tribal member, Dave Anderson.

Anderson was recently inducted into the Native American Hall of Fame Nov. 6, 2021, where Chief Gary Batton introduced him at the ceremony.

According to the Native American Hall of Fame’s website, Dave has done much more than start a successful barbeque restaurant.
He served on the Wisconsin Council on Tourism, Wisconsin’s Council on Minority Business Development and the National Task Force on Reservation Gaming. He is the Co-Founder of Grand Casinos. In 2002, Oprah Winfrey recognized Anderson’s LifeSkills Center for Leadership, an organization dedicated to supporting at-risk Indian youth, with her Angel Network Award. Anderson was named a Bush Leadership Fellow, Minnesota and Dakota’s Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young, NASDAQ and USA Today. He was named Restaurateur of the Year in 1988 by Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine. He was inducted into the National Barbecue Hall of Fame in 2017.

“This induction into the Native American hall of fame is, first of all, very humbling. I’m very honored, but I think it’s a testament to what can be achieved if you never ever give up on your dreams,” said Anderson on the night of his induction. “Because growing up, I thought I was the dumbest kid on the block. I thought I would never succeed, and I had somebody come into my life that said: ‘Dave, you have the seeds of greatness within you. You should never give up on your dreams. and if you work hard and work to help other people, be a blessing into the lives of other people, amazing things can happen.'”

Dave’s father, Jimmie, was a Choctaw tribal member from Idabel, Oklahoma. According to Anderson, after serving in World War II, Jimmie moved to Chicago to find work. His father was the person who introduced young Dave to barbeque. The love of down south, real pit, wood-smoked barbeque ribs was passed down from father to son by visiting all the local barbecue restaurants. Dave said his father knew every good barbecue restaurant on the south side of Chicago.

This love of delicious barbecue only grew and inspired “Famous Dave” to open his first restaurant in 1994. He purchased a small restaurant on Big Round Lake in Hayward, Wisconsin, and his dream became a reality. From the beginning, this first restaurant, named “Famous Dave’s BBQ Shack,” was a tremendous success. According to Dave, they were serving as many as 1,000 in a night.

The other large barbeque competing brands were baking their ribs when his restaurant opened. Dave’s father, Jimmie, had taught him how to make barbecue ribs that may take a bit more work but taste better. Anderson pioneered the first national barbecue brand to use real wood-burning pits. This one small restaurant grew into an international brand. Famous Dave’s now has 120 locations all over the United States, Canada, and United Arab Emirates. Dave’s hard work and commitment to serving only the highest quality product has paid off in many ways.

Dave Anderson with Chief and Assistant Chief
Photo by Christian Toews

Dave Anderson was recently inducted into the Native American Hall of Fame. Assistant Chief Jack Austin, Jr. and Chief Gary Batton were at the induction ceremony on November 6, 2021.

By his own admission, Dave probably has more barbecue sauces, rubs, seasonings, marinades, spicy pickles, bloody marry mixes and cornbread mixes in grocery stores than any other man alive. These products can be purchased in retail giants across the country, including Target, Sam’s Club, Costco, Walmart and Menards.

Barbecue isn’t as much of a job as it is a calling for the Anderson family. Just like his father, Dave Anderson passed his knowledge and passion for cooking barbeque on to his son, James. James has become the third generation of award-winning Anderson family barbecue pitmasters. With his father’s knowledge and expertise, he founded his own barbecue restaurant in 2011.

His first endeavor with Jimmie’s Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse was to provide barbecue to the US Military serving on the front lines in Afghanistan. From 2011 to today, Jimmie’s Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse has grown to four award-winning barbecue restaurants in Wisconsin. James said that he is often asked how he first got into barbecue.

James said, “I never really got into barbecue. More than I was born into it, with my grandpa being such a big lover of all southern foods, especially his wood smoked, real pit barbecue. And then there is my dad, now affectionately known as ‘Famous Dave’ America’s Rib King and BBQ Hall of Famer.”

The Anderson family is very proud of their Choctaw heritage, and “Famous Dave” attributes the things that his father taught him to the Choctaw people. “I think there are a lot of values that the Choctaw Nation holds that my dad passed to me—having a good work ethic and being a person of faith. My dad was very proud Choctaw, and he always wore his cowboy hat and carried a Bible,” he said.

Dave Anderson said that he hopes his story can inspire others to embrace adversity and see it as an opportunity. “The biggest challenge I’ve ever had to face was getting me out of the way and understanding that you can achieve anything you want out of life if you help enough other people first. I would say learn how to take the problems away from other people, figure out how to work hard, and then be a blessing into the life of another person. Be obsessively devoted to the bettering of other people, and you’ll never have to worry about where your next paycheck comes from,” he concluded.

For more information on Famous Dave’s and a full list of locations, visit famousdaves.com.