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Culver's Founder Took Long Path to Roark Buy


Craig Culver is co-founder and chairman of Culver's, the 640-restaurant butter burgers and custard chain, and will speak at the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference in Las Vegas on Nov. 14.

Craig Culver inked a deal last Friday with Roark Capital, the private equity firm that bought a minority stake in the 640-unit Culver’s chain, but it’s a move Culver had resisted for years.

“This is something we’ve been looking at, actually going back to 2007,” Culver told me in a conference call today to prepare for an upcoming panel discussion at the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference. “In 2007, we were looking to do something for the shareholders.” “I didn’t want to go public. I didn’t want to do a P/E event. I was always uncomfortable with that.”

In 2007 “we borrowed $33 million to dividend it out to the shareholders, there were only three at the time. And then after 2007, we had the great recession, so all this money that you put into an account somewhere, it was reduced by almost half,” recalled Culver, who is chairman and co-founder. “So we said, why did we ever do this? Fortunately over time, it’s gotten back and grown a little.”

Two years ago, Culver said, he was sitting with Neal Aronson, managing director at Atlanta-based Roark, “and we were close to doing something, and then I got cold feet and said no. Fast forward, eight months ago we got interested again, and the board said, 'let’s explore.'”

Five private equity firms bid on the deal, “and the multiples were very, very good. So if we can do a minority share, maintain control of the company, let’s look seriously at doing it,” Culver said.

“Just last Friday we inked the deal, and I think we’ve got a great partner in Roark,” he said. “They’re wonderful people, they know the franchise business, which we’re in big time. They’re going to sit two people on the board. Our future has been bright and now it’s even brighter.”

Culver will share this and other tales about growing his Wisconsin-based restaurant company on a Founders Panel November 14 at the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference in Las Vegas, presented by FT’s sister publication, the Restaurant Finance Monitor. Scott Gittrich of Toppers Pizza and Brandon Landry of Walk-On’s will also speak, and Beth Ewen, editor-in-chief of Franchise Times, will moderate. Visit restfinance.com for more information.

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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Tom KaiserTom Kaiser is senior editor of Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3209, or send story ideas to tkaiser@franchisetimes.com.
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is editor-in-chief of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is managing editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at




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