How Craig Culver Built A Thriving Restaurant Chain

Aug 27, 2019

After years of working day and night in his family’s businesses, Craig Culver decided he wanted to get out of the restaurant industry. But a four-year stint at McDonald’s corporate headquarters — first as a management trainee, then store manager — got him interested again.

With help from his mom and dad, Craig and his wife Lea ended up back in his hometown of Sauk City, Wis., running an old A&W his parents had owned 20 years before. They named it Culver’s and built a menu around ButterBurgers and frozen custard. It was the beginning of a company that would franchise 700+ restaurants in 25 states and generate more than $1 billion in annual system sales.

In October 2017, Craig and his co-owners sold 30% of the company to Atlanta-based private equity group Roark Capital Group, one of five that was interested in partnering. Craig will remain chairman, his management team will stay intact, and his plans are to ensure that the company stays family-owned and continues to grow for the next 100 years.

Here are some tips Craig has for fellow entrepreneurs:

  • Be very honest with bankers. Let them know exactly what's going on. No surprises.
  • It always boils down to people — who are talented, yes — but also who know how to say please and thank you and mean it.
  • If you truly believe in your concept, and if it fails the first time, don’t give up. That was us during our first year of Culver’s when we nearly failed.
  • Surround yourself with people who are believers and also have the “no quit" attitude.
  • Once you do have some success, work even harder ... don’t lose engagement.
  • Finally, even though I say work harder, don’t forget about the other parts of your life ... balance. It truly is a tough balancing act between your entrepreneurial (work) life and your family, personal and spiritual life ... all very important to a healthy life.