Famous Dave's to introduce 'virtual restaurants' that sound suspiciously like 'websites'

Famous Dave's

Famous Dave's

Don't bother trying to get a table at Famous Dave's newest restaurants... because there won't be any.

Unless you're cool plopping down at a prep table: The Minnetonka-based BBQ chain is gearing up to open the first of its new "virtual restaurants," small-scale iterations of the chain that'll operate out of shared kitchens. The first is slated for Pasadena, California, according to the Business Journal.

Have Pizza Luce, Toppers, and almost every other delivery spot been providing a "virtual restaurant" experience for years? Sure have! But what makes concepts like the new Dave's different is that they don't have seating at all.

The BBQ giant isn't the first to realize you can cut costs significantly by opting to axe real estate. Forbes reported on the "virtual" or "app-based" restaurant trend last year (also using the much-more-metal phrases "ghost restaurant" and "headless concept"). Clustertruck came to Minneapolis in May; it now has seven dining-room-free outposts around the country. The Chicago-based restaurant giant Lettuce Entertain You—which oversees local eateries like Twin Cities Grill—opened Seaside's in its hometown last year.

But delivery is a tough racket, even if you know what you're doing. Celeb chef David Chang of Momofuku fame was behind NYC's short-lived Ando, the app- and web-only eatery that shuttered in January after just two years. Eater NY noted then that Chang's was just the latest name on a growing list of failed Silicon Valley-backed delivery-only eateries: Maple, Sprig, Bento, SpoonRocket. Not even $7 million in venture capital funding from angel investors like Jimmy Fallon (!) and Aziz Ansari (!) could save Ando.

But Geovannie Concepcion, Famous Dave's chief operating officer, says the company's seen "overwhelmingly positive incremental sales" since launching third-party delivery last August. "We started to drill down and think, 'How would this be controlled in a delivery-only environment, and what might that look like?'" 

He thinks there could be 20 or 30 delivery Dave's popping up within the next three years, assuming things go well in Pasadena. 

And Concepcion & Co. are considering smaller sit-in Dave's, too, ones "resembling large shipping containers" as shown in the rendering above. These would have a full kitchen and might include dine-in options in addition to delivery.