Dave grew up in Chicago, the son of Native American parents. He struggled in school and was often bullied. His father was a blue collar worker who instilled in Dave the importance of hard work and never giving up. When Dave was 18 he heard a motivational speaker deliver these words which forever changed his life: “If you believe in yourself and have passion, you can succeed.” Dave decided to leave college and start his own business. Despite his enthusiasm, his first venture wasn’t a success. Dave still had a lot to learn.
Dave wasn’t ready to give up. His next idea was to make and sell miniature gardens to local florists in Chicago. He scraped together just enough money to make a few samples. His designs were so impressive that a florist wanted to place a really large order. The problem was that Dave didn’t have enough money to fulfill the order, so he tried to talk the florist into ordering less. But the florist surprised Dave by offering to pay up front, and wrote Dave a check for $737. At 19 years old, it was the largest amount of money he’d ever earned in his life.
For the next seven years, Dave worked long hours and formed relationships with every major retail florist in Chicago. As a way to make extra income, he and a friend came up with a plan to buy a truckload of house plants from a grower in Florida to sell to local college students. By eliminating the middlemen, Dave and his friend were able to mark the plants up and still sell them for much less than normal retail price. They made $20,000 in two days. Dave felt invincible! Unfortunately, the feeling didn’t last long.
Dave used his large profits to purchase truckloads of new plants to sell. Then one of the worst storms in history hit the Midwest. Dave’s entire inventory was ruined and he wasn’t experienced enough to have insurance to cover his losses. Not only did he lose all of his money but he was forced to file bankruptcy. Dave fell into a state of depression. He started drinking, and one night he almost died in a car accident while alcohol-impaired. Dave was lucky to be alive, and he still wasn’t ready to give up on his dreams. He was out of money, so he decided to get a job selling paper goods to restaurants. He started slow and made his share of mistakes, but within six months he had taken a territory that had been last in the company and made it number one. More importantly, Dave discovered his true passion.
Throughout his life, Dave loved to experiment in the kitchen. He made a hobby of creating unique sauces and interesting meals. One day he met an entrepreneur who had an idea to open a theme-based restaurant. Dave became a consultant and was invited to join the restaurant as a minority partner. The restaurant was called the Rainforest Café and it became a huge success. While Dave enjoyed working with partners, he had a dream to open his own restaurant serving his favorite comfort food… BBQ.
Dave was living in a small town in Wisconsin. His friends begged him not to open a BBQ restaurant in that little town. They explained that the residents were primarily Nordic and wouldn’t know what good BBQ was. Dave said he had been perfecting a secret recipe for barbecue sauce for over 20 years and once people tried it, he would become famous. He was so confident that he named the place Dave’s Famous BBQ Shack. But due to an error at the printer, the name came out Famous Dave’s. He liked it and it was an instant success, selling over 8,000 meals a week to a community of only 1,800 people.
Famous Dave Anderson went on to franchise his BBQ chain, and it became one of the hottest concepts in the country. I first met Dave shortly after he started franchising. We were both speakers at a youth empowerment conference. Today there are over 175 Famous Dave restaurants in 37 states and they generate 500 million in annual sales. I saw Dave two weeks ago and jokingly asked him what he’s been up to the last 15 years and he said, “Oh, just selling ribs.”
Dave’s passion and determination to never let failure get in the way of his ultimate success provides a lesson for all of us. Here’s hoping you find your own secret recipe.
Until next week...
Live Your Dreams