By Doug Schroder


SEWARD – The Winnebago Chamber of Commerce held their 2014 Service Award Night on Thursday, March 12 in the gym of the Seward Park District building. This year the event featured a special speaker in CEO and Co-Founder of Culver’s Restaurants, Craig Culver.  Before the succulent dinner, catered by Sullivan’s of Winnebago and served up by Culver’s of Winnebago employees, Craig gave a speech about how Culver’s came to be.

Way back many years ago, Craig’s father purchased an A&W in their hometown of Sauk City, WI. His father knew absolutely nothing about the diner business. The former owner of the business was supposed to stay for two weeks to help show how things were done but he never showed. Regardless of that, his father pressed on, as he was a true entrepreneur. Everyone in the family was required to help in the business, even the Culver children at the ages of 9, 11 and 14. The Culvers owned the A&W for six years.

Craig would go on to graduate high school and then go on to college and earn a degree in Biology.

After the A&W, Craig’s parents bought a resort on Devil’s Lake Park in Wisconsin that featured a restaurant called Farm Kitchen. Everything was made from scratch for the meals, right down to the sundae toppings. Craig really liked the resort and he regrets to this day that he did not take ownership of it when his dad offered.

The Culvers sold the resort. Craig needed a job and obtained employment at McDonald’s. Craig learned a lot about the business side of restaurant work during his time there. After three-and-a-half years there Craig had moved up to a GM position, but it wasn’t satisfying him. His dad’s entrepreneurial spirit was inside him and he wanted to buy the old A&W in Sauk City and operate that. Craig went to his father, and with his dad’s assistance the family bought back the drive-in. They would run it an additional six years before a group of businessmen approached them wanting to buy the diner. The family sold, but with the agreement that Craig would stay on for two months to show how the business was run. That period of time was the worst time of Craig’s life. The new owners just did not have the level of commitment that the Culvers did for the business.

Since the business had been sold on contract, the Culvers ended up as owners of the A&W again when the people the business was sold to could not make a go of it. This led the Culvers to drop the A&W franchise and go it on their own.

On July 18, 1984 the very first Culver’s opened where the A&W was. If you’ve ever wondered why their logo is oval, it’s because that’s what the shape of the A&W sign was. Craig simply took out the A&W sign, and using what was there made the Culver’s sign to fit the space.

That first year of business was not good. Craig lost big time. In the second year the business broke even. It wasn’t until the third year that they started making money.

The first franchise of Culver’s failed in 1989. That did not detour Craig. Another franchise was started in Baraboo, WI on Dec. 6, 1990. Since that time that company has grown to 500 locations in 22 states.

The most impressive thing about Craig Culver is one of the things he closed his speech with. He stated that the most important part of Culver’s is those people sitting there. Those people were the Culver’s workers who were at the Award Dinner. He truly values his employees.

After dinner the winners were announced for the Person and Business of the Year awards. This years winners are Ron Huggins for Person of the Year, and German American State Bank for Business of the Year

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