Dave's was the first restaurant that I visited when I moved to Minnesota (Summer 1996). Two things impressed me:
1) People will wait outside Dave's door, while its snowing, so that they can eat there (this was a weeknight, ~6pm).
2) Dave can fill the place without direct advertising. Have you seen a commercial / heard a radio announcement yet? I haven't. I _did_ see a rib-mobile outside a Twins game once.
I'm willing to bet that a lot of the newer units are slow to build a customer base due to the fact that no one in the target area has really heard about Dave. The only reason I stopped in that one first night in Minnesota was because the pink neon pig looked more interesting than Chi-Chi's.
No food service background that I know of. He was CFO and though I have much respect for "financial" people, I have not seen very many of them that can actually "run" a corporation. I think he might be an exception. He seemed to have a good feel for the "public" as well as an above average understanding for someone as young as he is as to how to deal with employees. As I stated before, the employees he took from VVTV were the best ones. I have not heard anything negative from any of them who left.
Although I do not currently hold a position in DAVE, I would like to offer these humble thoughts on the matter.
Peter Lynch once said that you can ferret out your own investments by doing research in your own backyard. You have done this with a visit to the restaurant. You were impressed and that is a plus for the company.
Unfortunately, rapid growth is needed for a restaurant stock to catch on and go up. That's where the poorly planned development comes in, resulting in the Boston Chicken fiasco. Also, BarBQue is somewhat of a regional food, which doesn't lend itself particularly well to a national chain. (Pizza Hut discovered this problem when they tried to introduce their Midwest version of pizza to the Italians in the Northeast.)
I worked with Mark Payne when he was at ValueVision (Don't hold that against either of us). He is young and aggressive and has a very good head on his shoulders. If he gets the right advice I think he will make the right decisions. He has hired the best people away from VVTV which is not difficult if you treat them like human beings. He is not afraid to make difficult decisions and is not afraid to change course if needed. My wife's investment group bought Daves when it first went public and it has done one hell of a lot better than my VVTV stock option.