|Industry||Fast casual restaurants|
Sauk City, Wisconsin, U.S.
|Founders||Craig and Lea Culver|
|Headquarters||Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, U.S.|
Number of locations
|611 (as of March 8 2017)|
|United States (mainly the Midwest)|
|Joe Koss (CEO)|
|Products||Frozen custard, Butterburgers|
Culver Franchising System, Inc., doing business as Culver's, is a privately owned and operated fast casual restaurant chain that operates primarily in the Midwestern United States. The first Culver’s opened in 1984 in Sauk City, Wisconsin. As of March 8, 2017, the chain had 611 restaurants across the United States.
Sauk City restaurateur George Culver started with an A&W on Phillips Boulevard (U.S. Highway 12) in 1961. On July 18, 1984, along with wife Ruth, son Craig, and daughter-in-law Lea, he opened the first Culver’s Frozen Custard and ButterBurgers.
In 1987, the Culvers were approached about franchising a restaurant in nearby Richland Center. The Culvers 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 Culvers 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 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 1996. In February 1997, the company opened the first Culver’s outside the Midwest in Texas.
Beyond the Midwest
The current franchising strategy is one of contiguous expansion at a pace of about 40 new stores per year. 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.
In 2008, Culver’s expanded to the Phoenix metropolitan area. As of August 2012, Arizona had 13 locations. At the end of 2011, 445 Culver's restaurants were open in 19 states. Culver's also opened in South Carolina in 2012.
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.
The Metro-98 prototype, developed in 2006 and first constructed in Fort Dodge, Iowa, is 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 reduces the amount of land needed for construction by around 20%.
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.
Culver’s menu features Culver’s trademark ButterBurgers and frozen custard, which is also sold in bulk. A specialty is the deep-fried cheese curds. The menu also includes pork and fish, veggie burgers, salads, and sundaes. The menu is divided into seven sections: sandwiches, sides, drinks, kids meals, dinners, salads, and desserts. Items are made to order and are served at table-side. Culver's also sells its own brand of root beer.
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