Chain Innovators: Culver’s Frozen Custard and ButterBurgers

A Midwest staple, Culver's has spread its wings in recent years to cover 19 states. Its basic formula — friendly, fast-casual service; burgers grilled to order, home-style dinners and frozen custard — has put this small-town company in the ring with much larger competitors.

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CulversAs the company passes the 400-unit mark it plans for aggressive growth. To that end, Culver's has launched a major dining room re-imaging program. "It's not that we think what we have now is broken, but to be positioned properly for the next 10 to 15 years we need to make some changes," says Phil Keiser, president.

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Culver's new look and feel features more earth tones, new tabletops, different woods, flooring and fabrics. Condiment and beverage stations have been repositioned and the dining rooms have been rearranged to make groups more comfortable. One version the chain is testing includes a kitchen that's 10 percent smaller and re-engineered to be more efficient, Keiser says.

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On the menu, Culvers stays fresh with a steady stream of limited time offers and new product introductions, recent examples of which include sweet potato fries, Strawberry Fields salad, walleye dinners and a mini version of the chain's popular Concrete Mixer frozen custard treats. A "Mindful Choices" menu guides guests to meal choices that come in at less than 500 calories, and Culver's SnackPacks provide value-priced options. "As we grow, we have an opportunity to do a better job of articulating who we are and what we do. That's what it's about," says Keiser.

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Fast Facts

  • Year founded: 1984
  • Headquarters: Prairie du Sac, Wis.
  • Menu specialties: Fresh frozen custard and fresh ButterBurgers®, home-style dinners, specialty sandwiches and desserts, entrée salads
  • Service model: Fast-casual, drive through
  • Units: More than 400 in 19 states (98 percent franchised)
  • 2010 sales: $689 million
  • 2010 growth: 5 percent increase in revenue and 3 percent growth in units
  • Projected 2011 growth: 9 percent growth in revenue and 5 percent unit growth
  • Key expansion markets: All 19 states where units currently operate, plus North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, Idaho
  • Typical location: Freestanding restaurant
  • Average unit size: 3,800 sq. ft.
  • Average kitchen space: 1,587 sq. ft.
  • Average covers per day per unit: 550
  • Average check: $8.15
  • Total equipment investment per unit: $400,000–$475,000

Key Players:

  • Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer: Craig Culver
  • President: Phil Keiser
  • Vice President-Supply Chain: Donette Beattie
  • Director of Research & Menu Development: Jim Doak
  • Director of Non-Foods Supply Chain: Mark Nachreiner
  • Manager, Equipment & Design: Vern Young
  • Foodservice Equipment Consolidator: The Boelter Companies – Jeff Reinhardt
  • Foodservice Smallwares & Re-Supply: The Boelter Companies – Paul Burgoyne
  • Primary Food Distributors: Gordon Food Service, Sysco
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