Dave Anderson was born in Chicago to a Choctaw father and an Ojibwe mother, and spent summers on his mother's reservation in rural Wisconsin. Growing up, he says, he never dreamed he would be the successful businessman he is today:.
"Growing up in Chicago, you did at times feel the racism, you did feel a sense of hopelessness," Mr. Anderson recalls, adding that the time he spent on the reservation "compounded the thought 'I wonder if anything will happen with my life?' As a Native American youth growing up in this country, nobody ever told me I could reach for the stars and be successful."
But when he was 18, Dave Anderson heard a motivational speaker who persuaded him that anyone who has dreams and is willing to work hard could succeed. He decided to go into business for himself. Initially it wasn't barbecue that interested the would-be entrepreneur, but plants, and he had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get his business growing.
"For months I would knock on the doors of different banks and tell them I had this great business opportunity and I needed the money to grow this business," he says. "They would always ask me, 'Who is going to cosign for you? What type of collateral do you have? And what is your track record?' And when I said I had none of that, then they never wanted to talk to me."
That is until Mr. Anderson was able to prove to one bank president that he was a good investment. The president - who knew the young man through a civic organization - asked if he wanted to sell his plants at the bank during a special promotional event. When he sold every plant, the banker gave him a $10,000 business loan on the security of his signature alone. That was 1972. Dave Anderson was 19, and while he had gotten his first big break, there were still challenges ahead of him.
"As a kid I would work hard and then hit a brick wall [serious problem]. Then I would crash and burn [have a set-back]," Mr. Anderson says, recalling the numerous setbacks he has suffered. "I'd pick myself up, work hard again, then I'd hit a brick wall, crash and burn. Problems are part of the growth process."
In 1979, his florist company went bankrupt. Recognizing that failure is inevitable is one of the secrets of success, according to Mr. Anderson. Pursuing a passion is another. His passion, he says, is barbecue, which he discovered as a boy, when his dad, who was a construction worker, brought some ribs home from a restaurant on the west side of Chicago.
"And the first time I remember tasting these ribs was when I was 8 years old. It was something I never forgot," he says. "All my life I've been passionate about barbecue, and because I'm so passionate, I believe that is one of the reasons I've been successful in this business. Nobody should spend a lifetime doing something they don't love to do."
Dave Anderson opened his first barbecue joint in 1994 near the Lac Courte Oreille Ojibwe Reservation in Wisconsin, where he had spent his childhood summers. One year later, he opened another Famous Dave's in Minneapolis, and by 1999, he was franchising restaurants around the country.
Today, Dave Anderson is Chairman Emeritus of the restaurant chain that continues to grow. He's devoting his attention instead to the LifeSkills Center Workshop, which he established with $1 million of his own money in 2000 to teach leadership skills to young American Indians.
"One of the things you learn in the process of being successful is that we all stand on the shoulders of other people," the entrepreneur says. "Success is really about being a servant to other people. I can use my adversities and my challenges and problems to be a good role model to native youth. If they just hang in there and work hard, incredible things can happen. It really doesn't matter where you come from. It really doesn't matter what you've been through."
` In addition to sharing the story of his success - and failures - through the LifeSkills Leadership program, Dave Anderson talks with various youth groups and community organizations, inspiring others as he was initially inspired more than 30 years ago.