Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
June 3, 2000-Issue 11

Ojibwe Barbeque King Shares Recipe for Success
By Jason Skog
Duluth News Tribune staff writer
Famous Dave' Anderson urges people to learn for a living

For ``Famous Dave'' Anderson, Saturday's keynote speech for graduates of Fond du Lac Tribal Community College was another opportunity to inspire an audience.

But he wasn't there to share the recipe for the ribs that made him rich or give tips on how to take a company public. Anderson was there to share a message of hope, of overcoming obstacles and of making others happy.

Anderson, 44, a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Lake Superior Band of Ojibwe in Hayward, Wis., is arguably the nation's most successful American Indian businessman.

However, he hasn't always been so fortunate.

He remembers selling his wife's jewelry to help pay the rent. He's been bankrupt. He's battled drug and alcohol addiction.

"I've overcome a lot of frustrations to have some extraordinary success,'' he said Saturday in an interview with the Duluth News Tribune.

Success, indeed.

His chain of ``Famous Dave's BBQ'' restaurants started in 1994 on Round Lake in Hayward. In its first year, the restaurant was serving up to 8,000 people a week in the town of 1,800, he said.

Now Anderson has ``Famous Dave's'' in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C. with 3,000 employees and expected earnings of $50 million.

In 1989, along with two others, Anderson formed Grand Casinos Inc. In 1997, "Fortune'' magazine recognized the company as "The Fastest Growing Company in America.'' He also was a partner in the Rainforest Cafe.

How did he do it?

"I don't know if you can ever go back and put a finger on when success happened,'' the Chicago native said.

At 18, Anderson listened to a set of motivational tapes -- tapes that apparently worked. He began feeding a voracious appetite for reading and learning. He said he reads three to four newspapers a day, two to three books a week, and 30 magazines a month.

At age 36, he said he received a master's degree from Harvard Business School despite his lack of an undergraduate degree.

"If you don't learn, this world is going to pass you by,'' Anderson said, offering one of the many fortune cookie-sized bits of wisdom Anderson sprinkles throughout conversation.

Now a resident of Edina, Minn., Anderson regularly visits the area. Anderson's mother is an enrolled member of the LCO band near Hayward, and his father is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Idabel, Okla.

At 29, Anderson was hired as CEO by the LCO tribe, helping gross sales go from $3.9 million to $8 million in three years. The improvement won the tribe recognition from President Reagan's Commission on Indian Reservation Economies.

And it was done without the help of tribal gaming.

"We experienced a fair degree of entrepreneurial success not driven by casino profits,'' he said. `We had a cranberry marsh, a construction company, a grocery store and a radio station.''

Anderson warns tribes against looking to gambling proceeds for salvation.

"It's a steppingstone,'' he said. ``They can take their entrepreneurial endeavors beyond gaming.''

And those profits should go toward building a better way of life, he said.

"They should be looking at infrastructure development -- new schools, libraries, hospitals,'' Anderson said.

He's doing just that with a new foundation called the Mino-Giizhig Fund,which means good sky or nice day in Ojibwe.

The fund is helping to create a "life skills boot camp'' in Hayward for Native American Youth.

Anderson has donated nearly $3 million toward the development of the camp, including lakefront property.

He sees it as a place for young American Indians, and not necessarily the most troubled, to find inspiration to become successful.

"It's my hope this would give them the foundation for building character and individual resourcefulness,'' he said.

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