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Cottage Grove Famous Dave's project uncertain as financing plan discussed

Famous Dave's franchise owner Dave Von Rueden announced this week that a financing plan to open the barbecue joint might be in the works. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente

Plans to complete the half-finished Famous Dave's at 8479 East Point Douglas Road may have been resurrected.

Early last week, Dave Von Rueden, franchise owner and lease holder for the Cottage Grove location, quietly announced via a restaurant voicemail message that the barbecue restaurant "will not be opening anytime soon," if at all.

However, Von Rueden said Monday that "big changes" occurred over the weekend and a financing plan may be in the works to keep the project alive.

"I was pretty sure I didn't have the option (to open the restaurant), but my landlords said they are putting together some type of financing plan and they are getting back to me later today with what that entails," Von Rueden said. "No one wants to see me not open here, most of all myself."

Von Rueden said he was unable to acquire a loan for roughly half of the project and turned to other franchisees and Shea Distributing, the owner of the East Point Douglas Road property, for help.

"I've been in this position for the last four or five months and just when I think I have something nailed down, at the last minute something changes," Von Rueden said. "I've asked (Shea Distributing) for financing before and they weren't able to put it together. But, something must have changed."

Von Rueden said Monday he could know by early this week whether a financing plan was put together for him.

The city of Cottage Grove had been in contact with Von Rueden throughout the application and construction process, Economic Development Director Danette Parr said, and was aware of the financial struggles.

"Obviously we knew there was an issue with the timing because normally a restaurant doesn't take this long to build," Parr said. "It wasn't a permitting issue."

The franchise was given the green light back in August 2012 to gut the interior of the building, which was previously a Kentucky Fried Chicken, to allow for a 50- to 60-seat dining area. Other plans included utilizing the existing drive-thru and installing an outdoor smoker oven.

Construction crews spent the last several months painting the façade the unmistakable franchise colors -- brown and orange -- installing signs, and as recently as early March, affixing metal décor to the building's exterior.

Yet, construction stopped after that despite plans for an opening by the end of March.

The announcement last year that Famous Dave's planned a local restaurant was met with anticipation from residents and city officials, including City Council member Justin Olsen and Mayor Myron Bailey.

"In the world of business, things can change a lot," Olsen said at an early March council meeting. "If you look at Famous Dave's, we were hoping to have them in by Thanksgiving of last year. I know it's frustrating. You can speak to any one of my colleagues and they will tell you that no one is more frustrated than me when things don't go the way they should. But, we don't always have control."

Von Rueden shared the sentiment and said he was "excited" to bring the barbecue franchise to Cottage Grove.

"I have been optimistic before and I'm not sure what to think, but I think they might be able to pull it off," Von Rueden said of a financing deal with Shea Distributing. "If I fail to put this restaurant up, it's not good for anybody."

If a deal is reached, Von Rueden said he is uncertain when construction would resume and could not confirm a tentative open date.

The private renovation project was part of a company-wide conversion program that purchases vacant, smaller restaurant buildings and turns them into Famous Dave's locations.