Famous Dave's - CEO, John Gilbert

Date: MAR 19th, 2014

Topic: Interview with a CEO

John Gilbert has served as Chief Executive Officer since October 8, 2012. Previously, Mr. Gilbert served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Vermont Teddy Bear, a pioneering ecommerce direct-to-consumer retailer, since February 2009. Prior to Vermont Teddy Bear, Mr. Gilbert had a 30 year career as a marketing leader in the retail and restaurant industries. He is a recognized expert on brand strategy, new product development and consumer advertising. He previously served as the Chief Marketing Officer for The TJX Companies, Inc. from January, 2007 to February 2009, as Vice President of Marketing for Dunkin’ Brands, Inc. from September 2003 to December 2006, and as Chief Marketing Officer for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Mr. Gilbert also served as the senior marketing executive for Carlson Restaurants Worldwide, Inc. and General Cinema Corporation. Mr. Gilbert Previously served on the Board of Directors of IGNITE Restaurant Group, which owns Joe’s Crab Shack.

Tell us about the Famous Dave's.

John Gilbert: Famous Dave's is the quintessential BBQ experience in the world! Starting in a small town in Wisconsin, our founder, Famous Dave Anderson, worked on his personal recipes that have resulted in an Award winning equation for the past 20 years. While offering both the flexibility of QSR and a high volume full service experience, Famous Dave’s allows a great deal of opportunity for the multitudes of business professionals in the Food service arena. It’s not “Mediocre Dave’s”, or “Good Dave’s” or even “DAVE’s”, its Famous Dave’s. Thus, the pressure of being the “best of the best” is inherent in our restaurants name and brand.

How and when did you become involved with Famous Dave’s?

JG: I was asked to join the Board of Directors in 2010. Once involved, and witnessing firsthand the passion and opportunity to grow Famous Dave’s, I wanted to be more involved in the brand. I became the CEO of Famous Dave’s in November of 2012 and am proud to be a part of this team’s great progress on our pilgrimage to become an international authority on BBQ.

What was your background prior to joining (Famous Dave’s)?

JG: Marketing has been my passion since early in my career with Coca Cola and Pepsi. Having exposure to the food service industry, I quickly was able to apply some experience to worldwide brands like; TGIF’s, KFC and Dunkin Donuts in various roles including CMO. As it is applicable in our industry as well, it helps to have exposure and experience in retail consumer driven businesses, I have experience with TJAXX as CMO, and CEO of Vermont Teddy Bear Co. In this environment of personal service, consumer sophistication, and digital exposure, my background has allowed opportunity to manage the continued headwinds of world economic issues.

What are some of the advantages in being a Famous Dave’s franchisee?

JG: This marketplace awards specialists in their field. We have been able to duplicate our winning formula of food production consistency, business processes, and finally profits in a competitive environment. Our franchise partners feel the passion of our brand, our food, and our people which perhaps contributes more to the experience of owning the opportunity. Our specialized recipes and processes offer a “fun factor” that delivers results. Famous Dave’s offers its franchise partners the ability to be involved in a concept that has many avenues to provide that meal experience. Whether it be a Home Meal Replacement, a Catered event, “dining in” at a great restaurant, or offering trade secret retail products available for their own guests to anchor the moment, there are very few restaurant franchise companies that have created as many avenues of business opportunity as Famous Dave’s.

Who is your ideal franchisee?

JG: The Famous Dave’s ideal franchisee is a Multi-unit operator who has been in Foodservice industry for more than three years. Our industry is hard work and true entrepreneurs appreciate the challenge of becoming the “best of the best”. A successful franchise partner has the passion to build an enterprise that offers choices for them, as well as their consumer. Of course, being well capitalized is a must, knowing that business is a long term investment of time, material, and energy; it creates an experienced marathon that is both fulfilling to the Franchisee, Franchisor relationship and Brand.

Tell us a little about the Market?

JG: Our market is extremely competitive. With many opportunities to satisfy one of the basic needs of a human being, FOOD, we love our chances to create a difference; whether that be the joy experienced with a meal that keeps you wondering, “how did they do that?” or eating on the run. We feel that our product offering creates the differentiation in the consumer static of food options. The world Macro economy is changing by the day. With capitalism exponentially growing, we realize that the world marketplace brings opportunity to be successful in business. We are very optimistic that of our people, product, and experience of competing for that monetary spend, will ensure that Famous Dave’s will create memories for generations to come.

What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in growing this franchise?

JG: Trust the process. It is so poignant with a brand such as ours. Whether it be the production and art of creating our hand crafted food, or the process of training people, new to the industry or veterans, on how to become Famous!

Do you have a mentor and is their someone you use for inspiration?

JG: I often find inspiration in the stories of the franchisees I have worked with over the years. I've heard of immigrants sleeping nights on flour bags in a donut restaurant who've later become owners of dozens of restaurants. I've heard stories of franchisees who sold and mortgaged everything they had to buy a chicken restaurant on a major highway, only to have the highway rerouted, forcing them to do it all over again. I've heard stories of franchisees who've invented food items that became the most important contributor on the national menu. These are the kinds of things that inspire me.

What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?

JG: Though my sales department won’t like it, take your time. Know your product and be diligent in research. Finally, go to a restaurant, talk to a friend or family member, or even a manager who has been to a Famous Dave’s. Experience the package to see how that business extension can fulfill you as a person; with the knowledge that this business would have your fingerprint on it, regardless of the stewardship of the past years.

In your opinion, why do you think that (Famous Dave’s) would be a great opportunity for someone?

JG: We have a heritage of greatness. With all the elements that have aligned, we are on the verge of something big. Opportunistic entrepreneurs realize that the “first ones” to market are usually most rewarded for their efforts. Why not be a part of something that is unique, fulfilling, and already established. The risk reward ratio is in favor of the investor. Whether myself, our team, or the person thinking of investing, it’s an honor to be a part of a beloved brand. It is an experience hard to describe until you are sitting in our dining room, bringing home a meal, or attending a catered function and taking that first bite! “Wow this is Famous!”