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Restaurants & Bars 7

There goes Dreamland

Tater | Jun 24, 200202:48 PM

I can't imagine even the original holding up under this sort of pressure of corporate profits. I wouldn't walk across the street (much less drive 20 miles) to eat at the suburban Atlanta location again. I have to admit, they've maintained the quality of the original for the first 10 years of the new owners...

This was in Birmingham's Business Journal at the below link. I think it requires registration, so I posted the article. If this is a no-no, please delete and I'll post excerpts or find a working link.


Dreamland expanding on slow-cooked success
Gilbert Nicholson Staff

Dreamland is taking its famous ribs across Alabama, eventually the South, and perhaps beyond.

Owner Bobby Underwood, a retired Jasper dentist, is putting his money where his mouth is with the February hiring of veteran restaurant executive Dick Sveum (pronounced Sah-vim), former vice president of franchise sales and development for the Tampa-based Checker's hamburger chain.

"I was brought in to grow it," says the personable Sveum, 45, president of Dreamland Holding LLC. "We're looking to expand aggressively. Our long-term goal is to be a major regional player."

The developing plan is to build a strong base across Alabama through 2004, then move to other Dixie states with both company-owned and franchised restaurants.

A media darling

Famous for its limited menu of ribs and loaf bread, Dreamland was founded in the Jerusalem Heights neighborhood of Tuscaloosa in the 1950s by "Big Daddy" John Bishop.

A Tuscaloosa tradition popular among Alabama football fans and students, the restaurant gained national fame thanks to rave reviews during the 1980s by ABC college football broadcaster Keith Jackson. It still enjoys frequent mentions by ESPN College Gameday analysts Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit.

Ten years ago, Underwood bought Dreamland from Bishop's daughter, Jeanette Hall. In 1993, upon opening the Southside location - which marked the first expansion for the company - Underwood broadened the menu to include chicken, barbecue sandwiches and side items. He later opened restaurants in Mobile and in the Atlanta suburb of Roswell. He owns the original Tuscaloosa site, which still offers only the basic ribs and bread.

Sveum says Dreamland will open two stores in Alabama this year, then launch a full-scale assault on the state during 2003. He declines to say which cities would be targeted.

"We want to build a good solid core in the backyard where we're known, then build out slowly, controlled and contiguous," Sveum says.

"It's sort of like dropping a pebble in a lake that creates waves. You just let the waves go where they may," says Underwood, managing member of parent company Dreamland Holding LLC.

Sending ribs out of state

Sveum also is charged with expanding the fledgling rib delivery service that is operated from the Mobile location.

"We ship our ribs pretty much all over the country through two-day delivery," Underwood says. "Part of the reason why we brought Dick on board was to help us market that and take it to the next level."

Underwood, who determined last September to get serious about expanding Dreamland, found Sveum through an executive search firm.

"He had a good career (eight years) with Checker's and Rally's and came across as very forceful in his beliefs about expansion," Underwood says.

Particularly impressive was Sveum's initiative; he presented an expansion and franchising plan on the first interview based on his limited knowledge of Dreamland, Underwood says.

A New Mexico native, Sveum began his restaurant career at the age of 15, flipping hamburgers for McDonald's and working his way up to store manager. After nine years under the golden arches, he spent 12 years with the Wiernesrschnitzel restaurant chain - some of them as a franchisee.

In 1993, Sveum joined Checker's, a publicly traded hamburger chain that also owns the Rally's hamburger brand, with a combined 796 restaurants. The company earned revenue of $37 million in first-quarter 2002.

So why Dreamland?

"It's an opportunity to go into a concept in its infancy and make it grow," Sveum says. "There are a ton of barbecue guys out there in Alabama. But nobody out there does ribs as well as Dreamland. It's got a huge following in the state, brand recognition, and a great concept with huge potential."


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