HAYWARD - His newest restaurant venture three weeks old, it was clear Dave Anderson enjoyed being back in the grip of barbecue.
“Make sure everybody’s got a smile on,” Anderson said April 30 to the manager at his newest venture, Jimmie’s Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse.
Wrapped in an apron and slicing up juicy hunks of brisket, Anderson was surrounded by the rough-hewn pine boards that paneled the walls and made up the long, banquet-style tables.
“We made everything from scratch,” said Anderson, who turns 62 this month. “I think that’s how a good barbecue joint should be made - everything done by hand, no fancy architects, just a bunch of guys getting together, taking raw wood and building a real American barbecue joint.”
Located near downtown in the husk of an old Chinese restaurant along U.S. Highway 63, Jimmie’s hits a person in the parking lot with its blend of sweet and smoky aromas.
To hear the patrons tell it, the experience only gets better from there.
“It doesn’t matter what the venue is,” said Sheri Bassett of Minneapolis, “he still knows barbecue. It’s terrific.”
John Rieland used to come up a few times a year from Eau Claire, Wis., to eat at Anderson’s old Famous Dave’s on the shores of Round Lake, 10 miles east of Hayward. Following his first visit, Rieland insisted he’ll do the same for Jimmie’s.
“Because he’s a legend,” Rieland said of Anderson.
Christian Freeman, a seventh-generation Texan and chef at a local resort, pulled up on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle for what was already his third lunch visit to the new restaurant.
“It falls apart just like it should,” Freeman said of the meat. “It’s very good.”
Immersed in new venture
Anderson’s original Famous Dave’s on Round Lake burned down last November. With it went Anderson’s final tie to the publicly traded, nationwide chain of restaurants he started in 1994.
“The fire was devastating,” Anderson said. “I’d spent all my life dreaming about building it. The restaurant itself was one of the most iconic landmark restaurants in Wisconsin and probably the most-photographed restaurant in the state.”
In fact, those photographs are helping as Anderson remains mired in the aftermath of the fire. The log restaurant was a trove of antiques. An outpouring of patrons’ photographs is helping Anderson build an inventory of the items for the insurance process.
“It wasn’t like any other restaurant where you could just go to a restaurant supply store and price everything out,” Anderson said. “My original plans were to rebuild, but I never understood how long it would take for the insurance companies to work with us.”
Somewhere down the road, Anderson said he’ll probably rebuild on the Round Lake site - a roadhouse, he figured.
For now, he’s immersed in establishing the new venture that’s named for his father, Jimmie, who inspired Anderson’s lifetime in barbecue. While other children would go out for burgers and pizza, Anderson’s father would take the family to the south side of Chicago for barbecue.
“Barbecue is a lifestyle I’ve been passionate about since I was a teenager,” Anderson said. “I’ve spent over 40 years in barbecue. There are few people in America who have been in more barbecue joints and roadhouses and inner-city storefront barbecues than me.”
He’s distilled those lessons into Jimmie’s - which, in a nod to idiosyncracy, doesn’t appear on the exterior sign that reads simply, “Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse.” The floor space is tiny compared to what was a sprawling Round Lake Famous Dave’s. Instead, what Anderson has built is a lively and hopping place where customers line up to order at the counter from simple chalkboard menus.
Jimmie’s, Anderson said, uses all-new recipes, hand selects all its meats from area farmers, fresh grinds all its spices, pickles its own onions and uses cords of sweet maple to fuel its on-site smoker. Furthermore, there are only natural ingredients and no corn syrup in his two signature barbecue sauces, and the cheese for his macaroni side dish is traceable to Wisconsin dairies.
“One of the things very important for me is that all of our food is made from scratch,” he said. “I have probably one of the highest standards in the industry.”
Anderson recalled his father traveling regularly from the family home in Chicago to Jimmie’s own boyhood home in Oklahoma to retrieve the corn meals and hot sauces he craved. While Anderson said he quickly realized he wouldn’t be able to re-create the Famous Dave’s restaurant he lost to fire, he knew he could reinvent barbecue the way his father instilled it in him.
“I realized I could do something that was accessible and convenient to the customer,” he said. “I think we’re the all-American barbecue joint.”
Lines have been out the door some days, Anderson said. Before the state’s May 2 fishing opener, Anderson smoked up a storm so as not to run out of meat. The brisket sits in the smoker all night long and features just the right amount of top fat to make the meat swell with juices. Anderson refuses to cut down his spare ribs so that they, too, stay as tender and juicy as than anything else out there.
Already, Anderson said there have been real estate developers knocking on his door to see if he’ll expand into a franchise. His “street cred,” as Anderson called it, is off the charts for having one franchise legacy under his belt. When asked if this is just the beginning for Jimmie’s, Anderson said, “It is.”
While the fire that took away his last link to Famous Dave’s was a tough pill to swallow, Anderson insisted it wasn’t a bitter one. Long after the company he founded went public, Anderson remained its public face. But ultimately the calls from corporate stopped coming.
“I had to come to terms with (the fact) life has to move on,” Anderson said. “I have no sour grapes. I’m not a live-in-the-past-type person. I’m all about moving forward, and this is fun for me.”