Culver’s founder inspires young Lakeland entrepreneurs
For the record, Craig Culver’s favorite frozen custard at Culver’s Restaurant is vanilla, but he’s also partial to the most popular flavor, caramel pecan.
Culver, whose family founded the popular Culver’s Restaurant franchise, came to Lakeland Tuesday to share his entrepreneurial journey. The 125-plus students who attended got plenty of advice on how to start a successful business, along with a scoop of the famous vanilla frozen custard.
His visit came thanks to the Entrepreneurial Management course taught by Stephanie Hoskins, Lakeland’s Herbert Kohler & Frank Jacobson Chair of Business & Entrepreneurship. A student in the class, Kaelyn Brahm, reached out to Culver as part of an assignment and secured his appearance.
Students in Launch: Lakeland Student-Run Businesses organized the event, led by Aidan Hager, incoming Launch president and Musko's Campus Shop online sales & analytics specialist.
A native of Sauk City, Wis., Craig Culver graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with a degree in biology. He was hired to manage a McDonalds and learned how to operate a successful business.
In 1984, Craig and Lea Culver, along with Craig’s parents, George and Ruth, opened the very first Culver's in Sauk City in a former A&W restaurant that his parents had previously owned and operated.
“That’s when I became my father,” said Culver, noting the strong entrepreneurial influence of his father. “It cost us a lot of money that first year and we almost failed, but we didn’t quit.
“If entrepreneurs get knocked down, they always get back up because they believe so strongly in their goals. It’s more than running a business. It’s having a passion, and my dad had a passion for that little A&W.”
Culver’s is a national presence as location number 909 was opened in Bentonville, Ark., this week. Culver’s is in 26 states, and Culver said the business will continue to grow by 50 restaurants a year.
Culver, who retired as CEO in 2015 but is still involved as board chairman and the face of the brand, said budding entrepreneurs need a good concept, commitment to their plan, passion and some start-up money.
A team of good people that includes “bench strength” – the people who will step into roles when people retire or leave – has been a key to Culver’s success.
But the personal touch, Culver said, is a differentiator for his business.
“I’m not a huge fan of going to a kiosk and punching something in and it says thank you,” Culver said. “I want a person to say thank you. If a server says please, thank you and my pleasure and it’s genuine, the food tastes even better.”