Famous Dave’s of America Inc. has opened its first Famous Dave’s restaurant outside the United States, a franchised location in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, marking the next phase of its North American growth.
The Minneapolis-based chain of 186 barbecue restaurants foresees 400 to 500 locations across North America, including several in Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico, where one location is expected to open by December. Chief executive Christopher O’Donnell said in a previous earnings call  that the 100-unit variance depends on how quickly the brand expands with its fast-casual “barbecue shack” prototype over the next five to seven years.
In an interview Monday with Nation’s Restaurant News, he said Canada would be a “very strong market for us.”
“In Manitoba especially, people are familiar with Famous Dave’s from visiting or doing business in the Dakotas or Minneapolis, so we’ll have a strong client base,” O’Donnell said. “We’re learning a lot about their consumer, but Canadians seem to like Americana and they seem to like meat. They appear to be inspired by our sense of hospitality.”
Famous Dave’s is still observing how different economic situations affect Canadian consumers as well, but so far nothing has been too surprising, O’Donnell said. The chain cited rising gas prices’ effects on consumer traffic  in its core Mid-Atlantic market when it reported negative same-store sales in its first quarter of fiscal 2012.
“In some ways, some of the pricing for general staples, at restaurants and in grocery stores, appears to be higher than in the States,” O’Donnell said. “But the Canadians seem accustomed to it.”
Famous Dave’s Winnipeg unit is the first location for Canadian franchisee Tribal Council’s Investment Group of Manitoba Ltd. That group has agreed to build three units and is considering another pact for more, O’Donnell said, while several other Canadian investment firms have begun inquiring into the Famous Dave’s brand.
Other casual-dining chains growing rapidly in the United States also have begun branching out into international markets, including Buffalo Wild Wings into Canada and Texas Roadhouse into the United Arab Emirates.
In addition to its first Canadian outlet, Famous Dave’s operates 53 restaurants and franchises another 133 units in 35 states.