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    Craig Culver: Culture is All About People

  • The cofounder and chairman of the board won't ever let Culver's forget about real hospitality.

    Craig Culver started his restaurant career when he was 11-years-old.

    I didn’t want anything to do with restaurants. My dad saw that I had a passion for the business a long time ago. When I graduated from college, he asked if I’d be the GM of our family’s resort, Farm Kitchen, and I told my dad, “No, absolutely not.” I started filling out résumés for jobs, but nobody was too interested in me. I applied for a job with McDonald’s. I spent almost four years there learning a lot about industry. The entrepreneur in me started to come out.

    There’s something about true entrepreneurs: They don’t ever dream they can fail. However, they do, but when failure happens, they get back up and go right back at it again. My dad and I thought we were so good that we couldn’t fail. We came inches away from failing, but I had family around me who said, we’re going to do whatever it takes. There are so many families just like that, not only in the restaurant business, but also in any business.

    The many years we were growing Culver’s, my work was the bulk of my life. I was way out of balance for too many years. Strive for balance in your life; I think if you do that, you’ll be better at all walks of your life. When I’m talking to young people, I’m not telling them not to work hard, but over time, you can’t forget about those other parts of your life. If you’re going to grow your business, you’ve got to develop other people. What I discovered was if you develop the right people, they will correct their mistakes. They will grow not only as a businessperson, but also as an individual, because they’re going to feel more confident in themselves.

    The industry has changed mostly for the better. The thing that concerns me is the face-to-face, true hospitality. I don’t want Culver’s to forget about real hospitality or face to face with our guests and team members. I almost like to see our competition go with some high-tech thing, because that’s to our advantage. Culture is all about people. The other things—new tech, new products—those things will all just happen, but those core values are crucial. That’s the most important part.

    At what age did you enter the restaurant business?

    Eleven years old.

    What’s your favorite menu item at Culver’s?

    I’d love to have a Butter Burger, double cheese, every day, but I’ve got to watch it a little bit. I’ll usually have a single Butter Burger and maybe a small fry or maybe a small side salad.

    What’s your favorite restaurant, excluding Culver’s?

    The Del-Bar at Wisconsin Dells is one of my very favorite supper clubs, which Wisconsin is famous for. I tell you what, if you want to have a great steak or great anything, go to Del-Bar.

    What is the best piece of advice you think quick-service executives should hear?

    If you believe in what you want to accomplish, if you believe in that product or that business, take the risk and do it. The last thing you want is to say later in life, “I wish I had done that.” Take the chance. It’s never too late.

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