Weather Forecast

Craig Culver, founder of the Culver’s restaurant franchise, helps serve customers Monday at the Culver’s in Mitchell. He visited because of the restaurant's strong showing in a national Culver's contest. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

Franchise founder visits Mitchell Culver’s

Email Sign up for Breaking News Alerts
News Mitchell,South Dakota 57301
The Daily Republic
Franchise founder visits Mitchell Culver’s
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Craig Culver hopes his employees see him as a regular guy.

“I’m very familiar with getting behind the counter or the grill, just like them,” he said. “That’s what I hope they come away with.”

0 Talk about it

On Monday, Culver, one of the founders of Culver’s, was back in familiar territory handing out trays of food to customers from behind the counter at the restaurant bearing his family’s name in Mitchell.

In November, Mitchell’s Culver’s was selected as one of four champions in the Culver’s Crew Challenge contest, narrowed from a field that once included nearly 500 Culver’s restaurants.

As one of the finalists, Mitchell’s Culver’s earned a visit from Culver, as did the three other finalists: Culver’s in Appleton, Wis., Darien, Ill., and Corydon, Ind. This is the first time Culver’s has held the contest.

“The ultimate purpose is to raise the bar in all of our restaurants,” Culver said.

The restaurants compete in quality, service, cleanliness, hospitality and community outreach.

“It’s obvious that those are the things that tend to set a business apart,” Culver said.

Culver, who does none of the judging, said the contest is about “more than a burger and frozen custard,” but rather about serving customers.

“Those teams that can excel in that area — putting smiles on faces when people come into our place of business — they’re the winners,” he said.

The contest includes prize money, with $50,000 going to the winner and $10,000 going to each of the three runner-up restaurants. The prize money goes to the employees, or “team members,” as they’re known, and not to the owners, Culver said.

The winner will be announced at the Culver’s Reunion, the restaurant’s annual conference, which will be held this year in February in Milwaukee, Wis.

Culver praised both the leadership and employees at Mitchell’s Culver’s.

“It’s energizing for me to know that we’ve got people in our restaurants that really do care,” he said. “It’s just terribly rewarding for me to see that.”

Jason Bradley, owner/operator of Mitchell’s Culver’s, said Culver’s visit was a thrill to him and his employees.

“This is really special for us,” he said. “It’s really special for our team.”

Despite the added commotion of a visit from Culver, Tim Letcher, a manager at Mitchell’s Culver’s, said Monday felt almost like any other day.

“Basically, it’s a normal day for us,” Letcher said. “Really, we’re just on the top of our game and we’re keeping busy, making sure our guests are taken care of.”

Paul Pitas, director of public relations and communications for Culver’s, was also in Mitchell on Monday. He, like Culver, praised the leadership and employees at Mitchell’s Culver’s.

“People feel warm and welcome,” Pitas said. “A lot of ingredients go into it, but when you add it all up, put it all together, this becomes a very special place.”

In 1984, Craig and Lea Culver, along with Craig’s parents, George and Ruth, opened the first Culver’s in the family’s hometown of Sauk City, Wis. Since then, Culver’s has expanded to 492 restaurants in 21 states.

Mitchell’s Culver’s was opened in February 2001. In South Dakota, Culver’s has other locations in Sioux Falls, Brookings, Aberdeen, Watertown, Spearfish and Rapid City.