Thursday, August 6, 2009

When Summer Is Beautiful

Sometimes you know you’re having a good summer while it’s ongoing; other times, you need distance and perspective to figure it out. At the time, the summer I turned ten, shortly after my mother died, didn’t strike me as all that great. But so many special moments got mixed into the hard times that I look back at it as one of the best summers of my life.

The summer of 2009 won’t need to be recast as one that improves with time. It’s not over yet, and already I am nostalgic, thanks to videos, photos and new friendships, for the experiences I enjoyed.

Virtually all of those good times relate to my being a Famous Fan in the Famous Dave’s summer promotion. Having an excuse to focus on a goal like my BarbeQuest, my journey to visit every Famous Dave’s restaurant in as short a time as possible, gave me a way to spend the summer in a creative bliss that I won’t be allowed until I sell a novel or something.

What I want to do here is fill in the gaps of experience not evident from the three hours of video I uploaded to YouTube here: You can see me entering 24 Famous Dave’s, being greeted by the staff, and talking with some of the workers who had tales to tell.

What you can’t see is what I learned off-camera: that these employees felt proud that I would take the time to come to their part of the world, that they were grateful for the opportunity to be a little bit famous on YouTube, that they were excited that people at other Famous Dave’s, as well as guests from their local community, could take a virtual tour of their store online at

One of the beautiful secrets of Famous Dave’s is the pride in ownership that each of the employees I met felt. This isn’t an employee-owned company, yet their dignity and the respect they receive make them fiercely loyal. When they move away from where they work, they hire in at another Famous Dave’s. When a fire closes their store for three months, they wait it out. In that particular case, the store paid the employees to do volunteer work. No wonder the employees are loyal.

It wasn’t only about employees, of course. Guests stopped by my table at every store to see what I was filming. On a few occasions, the guests were eager to share their love of Famous Dave’s with the world. Others promised to keep track of the BarbeQuest, which served my ultimate goal, to keep Famous Dave’s on the minds of a growing contingent of consumers. Every time they watched a video or read one of my tweets, the smell of hickory assailed their imagination. You know I’m right, because you just got hungry for Famous Dave’s too.

Having my car marked to draw people to Famous Dave’s helped; in Ohio, at a dinner stop in a town tragically distant from all Famous Dave’s locations, my car led to a conversation with a family that was heading to Philadelphia, where I had just visited the Whitman Square store. They took note of where to go, and they planned to tell George, the general manager, that Famous Fan Se├ín D. said hello.

On the road, I met a number of people from Somewhere Else; those who knew Famous Dave’s got hungry for it, and those who had never been there said they would give it a try, on my recommendation. From Wisconsin to Long Island, down to Kentucky and back to Minnesota, I experienced the joy of meeting many great Famous Dave’s people, many amazing guests, and numerous future guests.

Problems arose, as always happens. I lost a day in Indiana because my brakes began to grind prematurely. That day, along with the $250 the brakes cost me, made it necessary for me to skip the New England and upper New York stores on the first leg of the BarbeQuest. When I do Michigan, I’ll scoot over to New York and New England, which won’t be out of my way when I go back East.

As I was coming home, some work I was doing online became problematic, because I was arranging a student exchange between my school and one in Chile by email. Suddenly, my emails to my Chile contact started to bounce, but my school chose to assume that I could fix matters if I were in Minnesota. Not so; as of August 1, some of the details that had to be provided from Chile still had not been delivered to us. This aggravation didn’t hamper my enjoyment of my summer, though.

A major disappointment came at the end of July. I intended to spend the final weekend of the contest visiting all of the Chicago metro stores. The Tuesday before I would leave, a local St. Cloud driver sideswiped my car by trying to squeeze between me and a city bus. My car came back from the shop in time, but the check from his insurance company still hasn’t arrived, and here I sit, with my Chicago travel money in an insurance company’s bank account.

That may turn out well, because holding off on Chicago until next year allows me to work out some publicity from a Chicago television station where a good friend works. More on that when the time comes.

Already, events from the recent past come around to affect me again. A couple of days ago, one of the workers in Clarksville, Indiana posted a short video of their store, which had flooded that morning during a vicious thunderstorm. I called the store and learned that they were all well and would reopen the following day, but now I see that I will continue to feel a link, an invisible chain that connects me and these stores, for a long time.

And so, the summer of 2009 already ranks as one of the top three summers of my life. What made it possible was the ingenuity of the ad agency that came up with the concept, John Roach Projects in Madison, Wisconsin. What made it work out so well was the cooperation of so many Famous Dave’s locations, as well as the corporate blessing that enabled me to make these visits.

It’s ending tomorrow, this Famous Fan competition. The next time I post here, I’ll be a plain old fan. I’ll still be on my BarbeQuest, and I will indeed visit every location. One goal of mine is to highlight the Famous Dave’s decision to use existing architecture rather than buy a place, knock it down and put up a building that looks like every other Famous Dave’s. In these environmentally conscious times, reusing is a beautiful thing.

Thanks for reading, and for checking out the videos. There’ll be more to look at, so stay tuned.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Famous Dave's Weekly Challenge #8

This is a fun one: take a photo of you and your family or friends enjoying Famous Dave's. I'm sure your photo will look good, because everyone looks good in a Famous Dave's, especially if some of the people in the photo have sauce on their chins.

The beauty of this week's challenge is that there's a bonus prize worth $100!

Here's my video for the challenge:

Good luck with your entry!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Weekly Challenge #6 and other news

I've left the blog alone while I traveled on the BarbeQuest, mostly because I was uploading video like crazy. More on that in a moment. First, Weekly Challenge #6:

This challenge relates mostly to the United States, and this is a VERY international crowd! Even so, you can have fun with it, and I encourage you to adapt it to your own nation's context. Use video, sounds or words (by posting a reply here) to enter, and let's get another winner!

Challenge #6:
What makes Famous Dave’s all-American barbeque the perfect way to celebrate our country this 4th of July season?

Every nation has a holiday that celebrates its existence, so use yours to add to the flavor of the challenge. Enter by commenting here or on my Facebook BarbeQuest group. Good luck!

My local newspaper, the St. Cloud Times, featured my BarbeQuest last Saturday:

The print version had a nice layout, but you can see the text here, at least.

There are many new videos up at YouTube:

And the main BarbeQuest website has a page for each store I've visited:

Check it out, and get your entry in for Weekly Challenge #6. It's the patriotic thing to do!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Famous Fan Weekly Challenge #3

Weekly Challenge #3 has arrived. Who won Weekly Challenge #2? I did! The video is posted below.

Challenge #3 allows for a lot of creativity. Post your responses here or at Facebook, and the judges will find them and consider your work. Good luck!

“If you could share the ‘Que for Two with anyone, who would it be, and why?”

Here is a response from our co-worker, John:

“If I could share a ‘Que for Two with anyone, I would share it with Jiminy Cricket. Jiminy would be a wonderful person to share a ‘Que for Two with because he could give me advice on my life love, on my dreams, and sing me songs while I eat delicious Famous Dave’s barbecue chicken. Also . . . he wouldn’t eat much.”

Have at it! Post your replies here or on the BarbeQuest blog. Anyone who wins gets an extra prize from me. Remember that videos are good for driving home a message, but you can Twitter yourself into a prize as well. Good luck!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Weekly Challenge 2 and some BarbeQuest Stops

Today I embark on the first leg of the BarbeQuest. I'll do Wisconsin in this order: Hayward, Eau Claire, LaCrosse, Wisconsin Dells today, and Waukesha, Pleasant Prairie, Greenfield, Appleton tomorrow. I'll catch the other two midweek on my way to Philadelphia and New York.

Did you contribute to Weekly Challenge #2 yet? You can comment here or on the Famous Dave's BarbeQuest Facebook page (link to right). Here are the rules, but first, my video on the subject:

Weekly Challenge #2 is upon us! Remember, as part of my network, you can win--the Weekly Challenges are not just for the Famous Fans! Good luck!If you’re more logical than poetic, you’ll do well this time. Post your entries as comments on this topic. Here’s the description from the judges:

Challenge #2: Famous Dave Comparison. Fill in the blanks: Famous Dave is to barbeque as ______ is to ______. Example: Famous Dave is to barbeque as Babe Ruth is to baseball. You can get in on the challenge as part of one of the “Famous Fans’” network. Weekly challenges can be answered as blog posts, Facebook group wall posts, photos on FlickR, YouTube or 12 Second video, or anything else you can think of. Winners for the weekly challenges will be chosen based on creativity – so don’t be afraid to have some fun with it! We'll announce new challenges and winners weekly, so check back for the latest info!

There it is! You still have a couple of days to think up a response. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

News Times Two (Like 'Que for Two!)

Maybe it's three pieces of news.

1. I asked innocently if there was a way to track signups for the Famous Dave's P.I.G. Club. The initial answer was "no." A few minutes later, John Roach Projects and the Fishbowl people proved that human ingenuity can still overcome computers, and the answer became "yes."

So now, I have to ask you: are you a member of the P.I.G. Club? (You may ask back, "What club is that?")

The Pretty Important Guest Club gets you occasional emails laden with special offers, grilling tips and--most importantly--a birthday gift of free food each year. Signup is free, there's no spam, and no sale of your address to third parties.

If you sign up through my personal P.I.G. Club link, I get credit. Now that all of the Famous Fans are using their links, I need your help in this area as well. So much for asking innocent questions. It's an exciting addition to the contest.

If you can't click on that link, here it is in a form you can copy:

My link is unique, so please don't go clicking on random links of this sort. Thank you very much.

2. My Facebook group, Famous Dave's BarbeQuest, is exploding in popularity. I set it up on Memorial Day, because I learned that Facebook might not like my original BarbeQuest page (because it was not listed as a group). So, on Tuesday, I had 30 group members when I turned on the computer, and I was up to 45 by the end of the day. I thought that was pretty good.

Again with the innocence. Today, dawn brought the total members to 50. Right now, I am at 152. The group tripled in size today, and some members plan to spread the word to several hundred people each. I hoped originally that I would reach 100. Now I dare to dream of 1,000.

If you're not a Facebook BarbeQuest member, please know that joining my group helps me considerably in the competition. Thanks!

3. This is mostly for Minnesota people. Thursday evening, May 28 at 6pm, I am going to visit with some BarbeQuest group members at the St. Cloud Famous Dave's. Each person's first three wings are on me. I want the people who have signed up out of kindness (and through blind faith) to have the opportunity to meet the person they are helping. The wings are a bit of giving back for the loyalty and assistance.

If you can come, either let me know through the BarBequest group at Facebook or leave a comment here (for non-Facebook people).

4. I was talking to the St. Cloud general manager today, and she said that, during a lull in the morning, she and some of the crew watched my YouTube videos of the Stillwater photo shoot. Between seeing me on the Famous Dave's site and on YouTube, they were pretty happy for me.

The St. Cloud people are an amazing bunch. They have been very gracious to me over the past 18 months, and so I recommend to you that, if you pass through St. Cloud, you stop in there for a meal. No one deserves your food dollars more.

I'm off to plan some more promos. Talk to you soon!

Monday, May 25, 2009

BarbeQuest Visit: Stillwater, Minnesota

This is a prototype post for my BarbeQuest visits. I had already eaten at the Stillwater location several times, but I never remembered to take a photo of it. This time, in addition to capturing the image for my website, I made some videos. Here's the first one:

More tomorrow, after they all load. Keep eating Famous Dave's!