ACCORDING to Dave Anderson, founder of Famous Dave's of America Bar-B-Que restaurants, the opening of the company's first Canadian location in Winnipeg is a historic event.
He wasn't just referring to the enthusiastic crowd who packed the 6,300-square-foot Reenders Square restaurant on opening day Monday.
Anderson, a Choctaw/Chippewa Native American, was talking about the substantial aboriginal connection at the restaurant's Winnipeg store.
The franchise for the Minneapolis-based company's first Canadian outlet is owned by Tribal Councils Investment Group (TCIG), an investment vehicle owned by the seven tribal councils of Manitoba.
"The native American connection is important," said Anderson. "This is the first time in North American history that a nationally recognized restaurant company expanded internationally by partnering with an aboriginally owned company."
Judging by the large crowd in attendance and the celebrity treatment Anderson received from many of the happy patrons at the Transcona restaurant, the decision to come to Winnipeg may well be a good one, regardless of the unique aboriginal connection.
Allan McLeod, CEO of TCIG, said it is a project he has been working on for several years. McLeod believes it will prove to be a profitable investment, and said he was taken with Anderson's story.
"Famous Dave himself is an inspirational native man, self-made and one of the top business people in the U.S.," McLeod said. "He's become a close personal friend of mine and a mentor. He's also got a great business model and some of the best food I've ever had."
Dwayne Marling, Manitoba and Saskatchewan vice-president of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said, "It's a great story. I don't think most Winnipeggers know Famous Dave is real person, let alone that he is a native American."
Famous Dave's is a well-respected restaurant with a profitable track record featuring award-winning barbecued and grilled meats, a selection of salads, sandwiches, sides and desserts.
CEO Christopher O'Donnell said TCIG seemed like a good fit.
"I talked with Allan and his team four years ago and they were so passionate about it," said O'Donnell, who was also at the grand opening. "We were ready as an organization (to expand outside the United States) and there was something about this partnership that was good. I felt these guys (TCIG) were never going to let themselves fail."
This isn't TCIG's first venture into the risky restaurant business. It holds a master franchise for Wok Box, a popular Asian quick-service family of restaurants, and has opened three locations in Manitoba.
There are other synergies for TCIG in that Famous Dave's serves Pepsi products -- TCIG owns a successful Pepsi bottling and distribution operation servicing northern Canada -- and TCIG has invested probably close to $3 million in the restaurant located in a shopping centre owned by Artis Real Estate Investment Trust, a Winnipeg company in which TCIG is a significant investor.
Marling said when a company such as Famous Dave's decides to enter a new market, it must like what it sees.
"It's a vote of confidence in the marketplace and the strength of the local economy," he said.
McLeod said TCIG intends to open several more Famous Dave's in Canada, although the number and locations haven't been decided.
Dining well done
Facts about Famous Dave's in Winnipeg:
-- First store outside the U.S., where it has 53 corporate-owned and 133 franchised locations in 35 states;
-- 6,300 square-foot, 220-seat restaurant and lounge with a takeout counter next door (built on the site of a former Blockbuster store);
-- 160 employees;
-- TCIG plans to build at least two more Famous Dave's restaurants;
-- Famous Dave's (a public company whose shares trade on the Nasdaq exchange) generated $155.2 million in revenue from March 2011 to March 2012.