Famous Dave’s Names New CEO, Shuffles C-Suite

Famous Dave’s Names New CEO, Shuffles C-Suite

Famous Dave’s has elected one of its board members to serve as CEO and shifted its current chief executive into the role of president and chief operating officer.

Famous Dave’s of America, Inc., on Monday announced the appointment of a new CEO and the transition of its previous chief executive into other leadership roles—a shift that the company hopes will fuel its growth.

The Minnetonka-based barbeque restaurant chain said that John Gilbert III—former CEO of Shelburne, Vermont-based e-commerce retailer Vermont Teddy Bear Company and a member of the Famous Dave’s board—has been elected CEO, effective immediately.

Gilbert replaces Christopher O’Donnell, who will now serve as president and chief operating officer. O’Donnell has served in various positions at Famous Dave’s for 15 years and led the company as chief executive since 2008, the same year he joined the company’s board.

Gilbert, meanwhile, has served on the Famous Dave’s board for a year, and as president and CEO of Vermont Teddy Bear since 2009. Prior to that, he was chief marketing officer at TJX companies, a Framingham, Massachusetts-based operator of “off-price” retail stores, including T.J. Maxx and Marshalls.

Gilbert also has nearly two decades of experience in the restaurant industry, having served in “top brand leadership roles” at Dunkin Donuts, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and T.G.I. Friday’s restaurants, according to Famous Dave’s. And he currently serves on the board of Houston, Texas-based Ignite Restaurant Group, the parent company of Joe’s Crab Shack.

O’Donnell will now report to Gilbert. Famous Dave’s Vice President of Marketing Aric Nissen on Tuesday acknowledged that the arrangement “may look unusual,” but said it “signals a new stage of growth for the company.”

Nissen told Twin Cities Business that the two men are “unique individuals with great and different skill sets who have worked together on the company’s board” and will now work closely in the executive suite. O’Donnell’s strengths lie in operations, while Gilbert will focus on growth, emphasizing marketing and brand management, Nissen said.

“Christopher’s leadership got us where we are today, and we still need that,” but we also need to focus on expanding the brand, he said, citing as an example the company’s recent expansion into Canada.

Mark Smith, a stock analyst at Minneapolis-based Feltl & Company, applauded the company’s leadership changes, according to a report by the Star Tribune. “I think this change will be good for the company,” he reportedly said. “We are excited that Christopher will be staying. Nobody knows the chain and its operations better than he does.”

“I am excited for the opportunity to lead Famous Dave’s at this juncture and look forward to working closely with Christopher, as well as the rest of the executive management team, in growing this phenomenal brand,” Gilbert said in a statement. “My experience, both in the restaurant industry and on the Famous Dave’s board, tells me that this brand, with its unique BBQ expertise, is well positioned for tremendous growth in the near future.”

Famous Dave’s of America develops, owns, operates, and franchises barbeque restaurants. It currently owns 53 locations and franchises 134 in 34 states and one Canadian province.

The company’s revenue grew 4 percent to $154.8 million in its most recently completed fiscal year, which ended January 1. However, revenue for the quarter that ended July 1 totaled $41.3 million, up less than 1 percent from the same period a year ago.