Craig Culver and his wife, Lea, our co-founders, have built their careers by following the credo, “Our beliefs are simple; do the right thing for our guests, team members, franchisees, board of directors and communities.” The Culver family has small-town, deep roots in the Sauk-Prairie, Wis., community. Craig was born June 15, 1950, in Neenah, Wis., the son of George and Ruth Culver. He has one brother, Curt, and one sister, Georgia. Craig grew up in the restaurant business. While his family owned and operated supper clubs and eateries in the Sauk County, Wis., area, he became fascinated with the world of quick cuisine. Craig’s parents first purchased an A&W property in 1961 and sold it in 1968, the year Craig graduated from high school. It was on this site a Sauk City root beer stand would provide fertile ground for the Culver’s® franchise.

In 1968, his parents purchased The Farm Kitchen resort at Devil’s Lake, Wis. Craig worked there during his college breaks and summers, where he met Lea (Weiss). They married in 1975 and have three children. Craig graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1973, with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and was not interested in taking over the Farm Kitchen, so his father sold the restaurant. Unsure of what to do for his “career,” Craig went to work for McDonald’s®. Four years later, Craig wanted to start his own business and asked his father if he would purchase the A&W restaurant back. His father quickly agreed, repurchased it in 1976, and the family ran it for another six years.

In 1982 the Culver’s sold the A&W once more, this time on a land contract. They then opened Culver’s Ritz, a supper club in Baraboo, Wis. After two years, the family had an opportunity to return to the Sauk-Prairie area, so they sold the Ritz and took the closed A&W property back after the owner defaulted on a land contract. It was on that site, on July 18, 1984, the first Culver’s restaurant was opened. Craig ran the restaurant remembering one of his dad’s many sayings, “Don’t mess with the quality.” Through his wisdom, guidance, coaching and teaching, the business started to thrive.

Frozen custard was a longtime favorite treat for the Culver family, who frequently made trips to Milwaukee (the unofficial frozen custard capital of the world) for their favorite dessert. But running a typically summer business year-round would require menu variety to ensure they could support two families. Burgers were their first menu item, and they needed a name. So Craig remembered when his mom would butter the top of a bun and lightly grill it until toasted – from this, the ButterBurger® was born.

Several people approached the Culver family to bring a Culver’s to their hometown. In fact, they granted franchise rights for a restaurant in Richland Center, Wis. That became one of their most important lessons. A few years later the restaurant closed, agreements were torn up, and Culver’s first franchising effort had ended. On July 14, 1987, Culver Franchising System, Inc. (CFSI) was created as the franchising arm of Culver’s. The rights to a Baraboo restaurant were drafted and sold and the first successful franchised Culver’s restaurant opened in 1990. In the years that followed, a speckling of new restaurants opened throughout Wisconsin, and then went outside state lines. Currently, Culver’s strategic growth plan will create a “belt” of restaurants from Texas through the Midwest. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, Culver’s is the largest frozen custard chain in the United States.

In March 1999 CFSI opened new offices and a learning center in Prairie du Sac, Wis., just a mile or so from the original restaurant. The building allows infrastructure growth to provide educational seminars, along with personal and professional growth that doesn’t outpace expansion.

The Culver family believes in the owner/operator concept. Just as they are hometown owners, they believe franchisees have a greater “local investment” to maintain Culver’s standards through locally owned and operated restaurants.

Both Craig and Lea are actively involved in the business. Craig serves as a business coach, cheerleader and mentor to all franchisees and their teams. He frequently visits Culver’s throughout the system to show his appreciation for franchisees’ hard work and dedication to their guests. Lea’s passion is wholehearted hospitality. She facilitates hospitality training sessions for new franchisees, in-store training, and manager’s workshops, including a “graduation dinner” complete with a home-cooked meal at the Culver home. Lea is also the executive director of the Culver’s VIP Foundation. They donate financially and countless hours to a number of charitable organizations

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