|Industry||Fast food restaurants|
|Founded||July 18, 1984Sauk City, Wisconsinin|
|Headquarters||Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, United States|
Number of locations
|899 (February 2023)|
|26 U.S. states, mainly in the Midwest|
|Products||Hamburgers, frozen custard, milkshakes, cheese curds, chicken sandwiches, fish, french fries, salads|
Number of employees
Culver Franchising System, LLC (Culver's) is an American fast-casual restaurant chain. The company was founded in 1984 by George, Ruth, Craig, and Lea Culver. The first location opened in Sauk City, Wisconsin, on July 18, 1984, under the name "Culver's Frozen Custard and ButterBurgers." The privately held company is headquartered in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. The chain operates primarily in the Midwestern United States, and has a total of 899 restaurants in 26 states as of February 2023.
Culver's menu is mostly known for its butter burgers and frozen custard, but offers many other options, including: cheese curds, onion rings, chicken, fish, grilled cheese, soups, salads, milkshakes, and various specialty items.
Sauk City restaurateurs and husband and wife team George and Ruth Culver started their fast food careers as the owners of an A&W on Phillips Boulevard (U.S. Highway 12) in 1961. In 1968, they purchased a resort-styled restaurant at Devil's Lake called The Farm Kitchen. Their son, Craig Culver, worked for a local McDonald's right out of college in 1973. After selling their restaurants and quitting their jobs, George, Ruth, Craig, and his former wife Lea opened the first Culver's Frozen Custard and ButterBurgers on July 18, 1984. Craig led the company from its inception until 2015.
In 1988, the Culver family were approached about franchising a restaurant in nearby Richland Center. The family agreed, granting the franchisee a loose licensing agreement, charging no fees or royalties. Because the franchisee had invested very little of his own money, it was a simple matter for him to walk away a year later when he decided he no longer wanted to be in the restaurant business.
As a result of this experience, the Culver family established a set of standard franchising procedures that form the basis for those currently used by Culver Franchising System, Inc. Three years later, they tried again in Baraboo, and business quickly doubled. Soon after, the increased recognition that the second store earned this small-town chain prompted expansion into the Middleton, Madison and Milwaukee areas.
In 1993, Culver's was still a small, local chain, with only 14 restaurants across southern Wisconsin. Culver's first restaurants outside Wisconsin opened in Buffalo, Minnesota, in September 1995, Roscoe, Illinois, in December 1995, and Dubuque, Iowa, in November 1997. In February 1998, the company opened the first Culver's outside the Midwest in Texas.
Beyond the Midwest
The current franchising strategy is one of strategic expansion. The chain expanded into Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 2005, followed by an opening in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in July 2006. Culver's shifted its attention to developing markets beyond the Midwest.
The Metro-98 prototype, developed in 2006 and first constructed in Fort Dodge, Iowa, was much more compact than the traditional 120-seater commonly built through much of Culver's expansion. While the Metro-98 has less seating to offer guests, it also reduced the amount of land needed for construction by around 20%.
In 2011, Culver's expanded into Utah, when Kristin and Tom Davis of Wisconsin relocated to Utah and opened a 100-seat Culver's franchise in Midvale. The couple signed a development agreement for four locations in the southern half of Salt Lake County.
At the end of 2011, 445 Culver's restaurants were open in 19 states. Culver's also opened in South Carolina in 2012; Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee in 2014; and North Carolina in 2015. On June 28, 2018, Culver's had announced that a location will be opening in Alabama. In January 2022, Culver's expanded into the state of Arkansas.
Venture into casual dining
Culver's Blue Spoon Cafe opened its first store in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, in 2000 as a soup-sandwich-salad restaurant as Blue Spoon Creamery Cafe. The name Blue Spoon comes from the color of the spoons used at the Culver's fast food restaurants. A second store in Middleton, Wisconsin, was open for two years but closed in August 2010. The Prairie du Sac location closed in May 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More recent developments
In 2013, according to a survey by Franchise Business Review, "Culver Franchising System was rated No. 1 in franchisee satisfaction among restaurant franchises."
Culver's menu comprises butter burgers, chicken sandwiches, fish, salads, french fries, and cheese curds. For dessert, the restaurant offers its frozen custard, served in either a dish, cone, or blended into a concrete mixer or shake.
On October 15, 2021, in celebration of National Cheese Curd Day, Culver's sold a limited-time product: the CurderBurger, consisting of a large cheese curd on top of a burger patty. On April 1, Culver's released an April Fools' joke showing a large fried cheese curd in a burger bun, naming it the CurderBurger. Soon after the post was made, a change.org petition was created to make the burger a reality, gathering over 600 signatures. Each location only got a limited number of cheese curd patties, and all Madison, Wisconsin, restaurants sold out before noon.
Culver's sponsors sports teams, including the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Wisconsin Badgers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Madison Mallards, American Family Insurance Championship, Culver's Cup Hockey Tournament, Jeff Trickey QB Camps, Isthmus Bowl and Wisconsin Junior Boys & Girls Golf Championships. Culver's also sponsors the WIAC baseball championship.
The official Culver's mascot is an anthropomorphic custard cone named Scoopie, featured in various advertisements, community events, and fundraisers. Along the way, two new characters were added: Curdis the Curd and Goldie the Curd.
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- "Burger Chain Puts In Order For More Sponsorships". IEG Sponsorship Report. March 9, 2009. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
- "2019 WIAC Baseball Championship (Presented by Culver's)". wiacsports.com. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
- Kramer, McKenzie (July 1, 2013). "LifeSource and Culver's Mascot, Scoopie, Promote Summer Blood Drive". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 27, 2016.
- "Introducing the Cutest Curd Nerd: Curdis". Culver's. Retrieved June 19, 2020.
- "Curd Is The Word". Culver's. Retrieved June 19, 2020.