The Ultimate Guide To Culver's

In the humble Midwestern state of Wisconsin, there are over 1 million cows hard at work to produce this nation's beloved dairy products, per the State of Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. That's udder-ly unbelievable! Given the state's obvious passion for mass-producing milk, it's no wonder that one of the most dairy-centric fast food restaurants began in the state.

Culver's, a fast food restaurant famous for its ButterBurgers, fried cheese curds, and frozen custard, first opened in 1984 in the tiny Wisconsin town of Sauk City, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. In the almost 40 years since the restaurant started, it has grown from a humble burger joint to a meaty mega-corporation. According to QSR magazine, the company boasts more than 800 locations, having added almost 50 new locations annually for the past several years, which brought in a total revenue of nearly $2.5 billion... that's billion with a "b." 

The franchise is most prevalent in the Midwest, but it is expanding throughout the country (via Culver's), making it more likely that you will see one pop up near you. Before sinking your teeth into some ooey, gooey, cheese curds, you should take the time to learn more about the Midwestern fast food staple.

The Culver family has a history in the restaurant industry

Before deciding to team up and open their own restaurant, the Culver family had already been involved in the food industry for quite some time. According to a promotional release by Culver's, founder Craig Culver's parents George and Ruth owned and operated an A&W restaurant throughout most of the 60s. They eventually sold it and later purchased the Farm Kitchen Resort at Sauk County natural landmark Devil's Lake.

Though he was initially reticent about involving himself in the restaurant industry, after graduating college, Craig Culver worked at a McDonald's owned by family friend Tom Showers, per the Sun Prairie Star. Inspired by his newfound experience, he encouraged his father to repurchase the A&W, which they successfully ran together for six years before selling it. However, when the new owners struggled to keep the business afloat, the Culvers took over the restaurant yet again, and as they say, the third time's the charm. The thrice purchase A&W became the very first Culver's.

The original restaurant struggled to get off the ground

Despite its founders having experience in the restaurant industry, things weren't all custard and cream during the first few years of Culver's existence. According to the Post Crescent, the first location struggled for three years before finally turning a profit. Starting a restaurant is always a difficult task and it's made all the more difficult by the industry's stiff competition; the original Culver's was besieged on all sides by fast food establishments, including a Dairy Queen and a Hardee's

Things would eventually turn around for the Culver family. In 1987, they were doing well enough to open a second location, which was quickly followed by a third, per Wisconsin Public Radio. However, the first attempt at opening a franchise failed, and it wasn't until 1990 that this goal was achieved. Following the success of the first franchise, the financial floodgates finally opened, and Culver's hasn't returned to these dark days since.

Opening a Culver's franchise is an arduous task

Apparently, enjoying cheese curds is not the only prerequisite to opening your own Culver's franchise. The restaurant has one the most intense initiation processes for prospective restaurateurs of any fast food establishment, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The process begins with Discovery Week, which involves new owners working 60 hours in a Culver's doing various restaurant tasks, including kitchen work and manning the register. Then, it's back to school as potential owners attend ButterBurger University, a 16-week course that includes working in a restaurant and attending classes to learn about everything from human resources to media relations. As part of their final training, attendees help open two restaurants.

Putting franchisees through this strenuous process seems to pay off for Culver's. Between 2000 and 2009, for example, the brand's franchises have a rate of failure that is one-tenth that of the average restaurant franchise, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Culver's is quite popular with consumers

The love that fast food fanatics have for Culver's has earned the restaurant more than its fair share of impressive distinctions. According to QSR magazine, in a consumer study carried out in 2018 by Market Force Information, Culver's was the second overall favorite fast food chain in the U.S.; they were beaten out by the popular burger chain In-N-Out. This second-place finish was marked by similar second-place scores in the categories of curb appeal, atmosphere, staff friendliness, and speed of service. 

In a review of the restaurant chain posted on Reddit, user chivil61 praises Wisconsin for its excellent contribution to the culinary world, stating, "Culver's is many steps above typical fast food, with higher quality food, exceptional service." Another commenter, anibiguousallegiance, states, "Though I'm not born and raised in Wisconsin, I don't think I could really live anywhere without a Culver's anymore."

In 2020, when the restaurant had less than 800 units, it brought in a total revenue of nearly $2 billion, per Restaurant Business Online. This made them the 30th most successful restaurant franchise in the country. The combination of delicious eats and excellent dining experience has garnered Culver's an excellent reputation among consumers. 

It is a very charitable corporation

As a corporation, Culver's is very generous with its cheddar, and no, that isn't just a joke about the cheese curds. The restaurant has its hand in numerous charitable endeavors.

According to the National FFA Organization, Culver's has a campaign called the Thank You Farmers Project, which the restaurant uses to raise money for local FFA chapters across the nation. Culver's has donated over 3 million dollars to the organization, as the company believes that supporting agricultural education is essential to the health of the food supply.

The brand is also committed to improving the lives of its employees. Team members have the potential to earn money for their education through the Culver's Foundation Scholarship program. Since the program started, over 5 million dollars have been awarded to college-bound Culver's employees. In 2021 alone, the company handed out nearly $700,000 in scholarships.

In 2022, three Madison, Wisconsin, Culver's locations took it upon themselves to get involved in charity. The restaurants donated 100% of their profits from an entire day to World Central Kitchen in an attempt to assist the organization in its quest to feed those affected by the war in Ukraine, per Channel 3000.

Culver's, like most corporations, is far from perfect

No business is without its failings and Culver's is no exception to this rule. In 2015, the franchise found itself at the center of a troubling discrimination suit.

According to Nation's Restaurant News, in 2015 an African-American man named Michael Wilburn filed a lawsuit against Culver's because the company wouldn't allow him to open a franchise location in Chicago's South Side, an area that is predominately African-American. Instead, the brand pushed him to open it in Franklin Park, where it's mainly caucasian.

Additionally, Culver's recently found itself under public scrutiny when a video of a small girl working behind one of their food counters began to make the rounds online (via Newsweek). A spokesperson for Culver's quickly explained that the child was the daughter of that location's manager, but seeing a child carrying bags of food definitely left a sour taste in the mouths of many consumers.

ButterBurgers are better burgers

According to a survey of the best items on the Culver's menu, nothing tops the ButterBurger. The name is derived from the process of delicately painting the top bun with Alcam Creamery butter, a practice that founder Craig Culver borrowed from his mother (via Culver's). After receiving its titular buttering, the burger's bun is headed for the toaster. According to Cook's Illustrated, toasting burger buns makes them more crispy and flavorful.

The ButterBurger can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Of course, you'll probably want to add a slice or two of Wisconsin-sourced American cheese, which comes on the ButterBurger Cheese and the Culver's Deluxe. However, if you're feeling a bit more adventurous, you could throw a few pieces of bacon on your sandwich, or change the game with the Mushroom and Swiss ButterBurger, which swaps out the American cheese for Wisconsin Swiss and places a mouthwatering layer of well-seasoned, sautéed mushrooms between two patties.

However, perhaps the most important aspect of the ButterBurger is the high-quality meat that makes up its patty. Culver's only uses grain-fed, Midwest beef, and their hamburger patties contain a mix of three different cuts of beef: chuck, sirloin, and plate, QSR magazine explains. 

Culver's cheese curds are made exclusively from Wisconsin cheese

Look, no one really has to be convinced that fried cheese curds are good. The original product — a squeaky little nubbin of delicious dairy – is excellent on its own. When the curd is coupled with the delicious fryer grease, a magical flavor experience is the only conceivable outcome.

Culver's uses high-quality Wisconsin cheese in its fried curds, which are produced exclusively at LaGrander's Hillside Dairy in Stanley, Wisconsin, according to WEAU 13 News. LaGrander's provides a whopping 7 million pounds of curds to the brand every year and all of the milk is sourced from dairy farms that are less than 50 miles from their processing plant.

Per Culver's, the fried curds are made from both yellow and white cheddar. They are gently breaded with herbs and spices before they make their journey into the deep fryer. The result? A hot, stretchy, crunchy ball of gooey cheese that is sure to melt your heart. Crystal Ro of Buzzfeed, in a review of her first Culver's experience, gave the cheese curds a (more than) perfect grade of A+++ — that's five plusses, folks. As if the She goes on to lament her curdless existence prior the visit, saying that the deep-fried delicacies were, "...verrrrry good," with five R's.  

Culver's sells custard, not ice cream

Culver's sells frozen custard. This may seem like a simple matter of semantics, but in fact, the two chilly treats are definitely different. Custard must be made of a minimum of 1.4% egg yolks to meet the FDA standards, while ice cream must include at least 10% milk fat.

Science aside, Culver's custard is downright delicious. There are a wide variety of flavors available as well as numerous extra goodies, like brownie bits, fruits, and chocolate chip cookie dough, that you can mix into it. Each Culver's location also features a unique, signature Flavor of the Day, which is a long-standing tradition for the franchise. This special flavor varies from store to store, but you can check out the website to find out which one is being served near you. Additionally, the Flavor of the Day is displayed on signs at each location.

The menu goes beyond burgers, cheese curds, and custard

Though they are best known for certain foods, Culver's has a wide-ranging menu. For example, there is a section of their menu titled Homestyle Favorites, which includes comforting classics like the pork loin sandwich and dinner plates that feature either beef pot roast or chop steak, along with two sides.

Perhaps the most unique component of the Culver's menu is its ocean-dwelling options. The reasons behind the restaurant serving seafood can be traced back to the Midwest tradition known as a fish fry. According to Gallup, there is a large contingency of Catholics in the Midwest. U.S. Catholic tells us that during the season of Lent, the 40-day period that precedes the Easter holiday, Catholics don't eat meat on Fridays. This is meant to be an homage to the Biblical story of Jesus fasting for 40 days in the desert, Newsweek explains. By including fish on its menu, Culver's always has a dish for its Catholic consumers.

Culver's once experimented with the CurderBurger

Culver's fans just can't seem to get enough cheese. It was exactly that love that Culver's creatives were preying upon when they crafted a cruel April Fools' Day prank. On April 1, 2021, Culver's twitter account released an image of a massive cheese curd sandwiched between two buns. After realizing it was a prank, consumers begins petitions to make it a reality (via Cision PR Newswire).

Eventually, the restaurant relented and offered the CurderBurger for a single day — October 15, National Cheese Curd day, a holiday the restaurant created in 2015. Instead of simply making a giant curd the entirety of the sandwich's content, Culver's opted to simply stack the curd on top on top of the patty in a classic ButterBurger, Channel 3000 explains. 

In 2022, Culver's enthusiasts were floored by the news that the CurderBurger was coming back. The sandwich was reintroduced on October 12 and it will be sold through the end of month or while supplies last. Per WMTV, CurderBurger sales were considerably higher than they were during it's first run in 2021. They explain, "First-day sales in Wisconsin increased by 42% this year... 44,200+ CurderBurgers sold on 10/12/22 vs. 31,100+ on 10/15/21." They also note that a few locations sold a CurderBurger almost every minute on the 12th.

They have their own root beer recipe

As previously discussed, the original Culver's restaurant was formerly an A&W. As such, it makes sense that the founders of the franchise would have a relationship with root beer. Now, they have their own root beer recipe.

According to Culver's, the restaurant's founder Craig Culver has an affinity for root beer that stems back to the time he spent sipping on the sweet brown soda at a carhop. When he opened the first restaurant, he felt that including root beer on the menu was an absolute necessity. He sampled countless flavor combinations before ultimately settling on what became the restaurant's signature root beer recipe.

Though the recipe is a closely guarded secret, flavors that often appear in the drink include licorice root, mint, and nutmeg, per McGill University. Regardless of what's in it, Culver's root beer goes great with a scoop of creamy custard.

Culver's mascot Scoopie is a hit with kids

Of course, it isn't just adults that find themselves enjoying burgers and curds at Culver's. A fast food restaurant needs to keep the whole family happy, and having a recognizable mascot is an excellent way to achieve this.

Culver's mascot is an anthropomorphic scoop of custard on a cone, complete with a gargantuan grin, named Scoopie. According to the South Bend Tribune, Scoopie costumes are created by Milwaukee's Olympus Group.

Scoopie is a rather generous dessert. Each Culver's Kids' Meal comes with an entree, a side of fries or applesauce, a drink, a coupon for one free scoop of custard, and a Scoopie token. When a child collects 10 Scoopie tokens, they can cash them in for another kid's meal or a prize, such as sporting equipment or a stuffed Scoopie.

If you're looking to satisfy all of your deepest urges for dairy, the odds are decent that there is a Culver's in your vicinity. If the nearest location is several states away, well... you'd better get driving. Those cheese curds aren't going to eat themselves!