When it opens in its new digs on East Speedway on May 6, Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que will ditch the table service and go fast-casual in what could become a new model for the national restaurant chain.
The new approach is an answer to the rise of takeout at the Tucson restaurant, which was a barbecue destination in Tucson for 15 years at 4655 N. Oracle before owner Alex Orozco closed it in mid-March.
“I think the dining rooms are shrinking a little bit because of the convenience of third-party delivery,” Orozco said, referring to services Grubhub, Uber Eats and others.
Famous Dave’s officials said they are looking at the Tucson restaurant as a pilot for what could become the model going forward for some of the national chain’s other 150-plus locations in 32 states.
“This is a key test for us to see if it works,” said Chief Operating Officer Geo Concepcion, who said the next six months will be key to determining if the prototype is successful. “I think if the first six months are going well, you’ll probably see another trial of that test.”
The new location in a plaza at 3007 E. Speedway is a third the size of the original location — 2,000 square feet compared to about 6,000. Because the kitchen is smaller, Orozco said he has had to cut a few things off the menu, but it still remains about 95 percent intact.
Without table service, his staff will be about half the size, going from 70 to about 40, he said.
Orozco said he will give it eight months to a year before deciding if he will adopt the concept at his Yuma Famous Dave’s or his eight other locations in Texas and Las Vegas. He also plans to open three more Famous Dave’s locations in Tucson.
“I think everyone is eagerly awaiting the results because it is an idea that’s been floated around a long time and this is the first time we’re testing it in a market and getting real time data,” said Concepcion, who said that if the concept works at Orozco’s restaurant, he could see more franchisers opting for the smaller footprint when leases expire or on new builds.
Orozco, a 41-year-old El Paso native, has been operating Famous Dave’s franchises since 2010. He also owns the landmark upscale El Paso restaurant Cafe Central, which boasts an 8,000-bottle wine cellar and fine-dining menu that includes beef and octopus carpaccio, Chilean sea bass and grilled Angus tenderloin.
In 2017, he opened the modest West Texas Chophouse in El Paso. He is breaking ground on a second location and is exploring the idea of franchising that concept in other cities.
“The response has been really nice,” he said, describing the restaurant as a cross between the upscale Ruth’s Chris Steak House and the more modestly priced Texas Roadhouse.