Culver’s franchisee owners are no strangers to Seymour

The owners of the new Culver’s restaurant slated to open this fall in Seymour bring a lot to the table, especially when it comes to serving up some real “Hoosier hospitality.”

John and Alice Laskowski also have some very strong ties to the city.

If the Laskowski name sounds familiar to you, you’re likely to be an Indiana University men’s basketball fan, as John played for the Hoosiers from 1971 to 1975 and spent two seasons with the NBA’s Chicago Bulls.

Alice’s ties to Seymour run deeper, as the world’s largest high school gymnasium carries the name of her father, Lloyd “Barney” Scott. He was Owls’ boys basketball coach from 1961 to 1974. During that time span, Seymour’s record was 233-91, and the Owls won nine sectionals and five regional titles and made it to the final eight four times.

All that basketball history means the new Culver’s — to be located on a 1.8-acre lot at 203 N. Sandy Creek Drive — will include plenty of IU and Seymour basketball memorabilia and televised Hoosier basketball games.

The Laskowskis are partners with Jeff Meyer, president of Meyer Food Management Co. in Noblesville.

That company, which has restaurants in Bloomington and Columbus and 10 other locations in Indiana, Ohio and Georgia, is in the process of adding seven more Culver’s this year and another eight to 10 by the end of 2023.

In November 2018, the Laskowskis with son Scott Laskowski opened the Culver’s in Bloomington. Scott is the general manager of that location.

“We’ve been very successful,” John said. “Of course, it’s a nice size town, and then 45,000 IU students come in for a big part of the year. We’ve been in the top 20 in sales each of our first two years.”

Culver’s was founded in 1984 in Sauk City, Wisconsin, by Craig and wife Lea along with Craig’s parents, George and Ruth Culver. There are now 785 Culver’s in 25 states, including 52 in Indiana.

When Meyer decided it was time to expand, southern Indiana was one direction he wanted to head.

“I told him that we could help out with southern Indiana,” John said.

Besides the ones in Bloomington and Columbus, there are currently two Culver’s in Evansville, one in Corydon and one in Jeffersonville.

His wife, who is a 1972 graduate of Seymour High School and went to IU, still has a lot of connections in Seymour, and that made the city an obvious choice for their next location, John said.

The South Bend native said construction will start after the city and Indiana Department of Homeland Security sign off on the building plans and a building permit is issued. The old Ryan’s Steakhouse will be demolished.

“We hope to start building in the spring and be open in the fall,” John said. “We’re going to hire about 40 to 50 people, and I’m going to need six or seven managers. We pay a higher than normal wage because we want better than average people. Good people like to work with good people. They don’t want to work with bad people. Everybody pulls their load, and it gets busy, so you’ve got to want to work.”

John said he discovered Culver’s in 1995 on a visit to Camp Brosius, an IU alumni camp in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

“I went to play golf on a Friday and hit this Culver’s,” he said. “ButterBurgers and Frozen Custard, I had never heard of such a thing, so I pulled in there, and it was really good.”

Over the next 20 years, John said he would stop at any Culver’s restaurant he came across.

“I was a guest and just loved the food, never dreaming I would be an owner,” he said. “So my last job before this, I worked for a company in Chicago but still lived in Bloomington, and so I drove a lot up and back.”

The Merrillville Culver’s was always a good place to stop, he said, but one day, there was a sign on that restaurant that said “new Culver’s in Crown Point next exit.”

“So I thought I would go to the new one, and I pulled in there to get something to eat,” he said. “The owner was there that day. He was a big sports fan and recognized me as an IU player. We started chatting and had about a 20-minute talk about some of the people in the sports world we knew — a very nice conversation.

“He said, ‘By the way, have you ever thought about owning a restaurant?’” John said. “I said, ‘No way. People lose their tail in the restaurant business. I would never do that.’”

During his drive home, John said something kept popping inside his head saying “Wait a minute here, don’t give up yet.”

“I called him the next day and said, ‘Fred (Terpsrta), what do you have to do to get a Culver’s franchise?’” John said. “He said, ‘They have an operations manual. Just follow everything they tell you you need to do in the operations manual. You’re not the first guy trying this.’

“I said, ‘I went to Indiana to play basketball, and I had a coach who told me everything I needed do, and it worked out fine. I know how to do that,’” John said.

That was in 2016, and the Laskowskis spent the next couple of years planning for and building the new Culver’s in Bloomington.

Craig Culver was there for the grand opening and plans to attend the grand opening of the Culver’s in Seymour.

“We look forward to having Craig come out and being here in Seymour when we have our ribbon cutting to kind of welcome Seymour to the community,” John said.

He said when Culver’s opens a restaurant in a community, it becomes a big part of that community.

“That’s the thing that separates us from other folks,” John said. “So we are here to serve our community and be involved.”

Culver’s has share nights for church groups, charity organizations or a high school that needs money for the band, choir or athletics.

“They can make anywhere from $200 to $500 a night,” he said. “We actually have them carry food out to the group. It really is a fun night, and we want to do that here in Seymour.”

John said he will be here a lot, and Alice will be here overseeing the restaurant once it opens.

“That’s the key. Culver’s loves the owner in the restaurant,” he said. “I see myself coming over here and working lunch behind the counter on Friday, getting a round of golf in at Shadowood and then going to watch an Owls football game that night before going back to the restaurant and getting a Frozen Custard.”

Another key to Culver’s success is the food is fresh and made to order, he said.

“We don’t have anything in the bins sitting there where you say ‘Go to the bin and get me three,’” he said. “At the end of the day, there is no waste because we haven’t built anything ahead of time.”

Culver’s also is very much into hospitality, John said.

“Culver’s is known for that, and in Indiana, we call it ‘Hoosier hospitality,’ of course,” he said.

Culver’s has not slowed down much because of the coronavirus pandemic, but a second drive-thru was added in Bloomington. Seymour also will have a second drive-thru.

Visiting Culver’s is just a nicer experience than going to a fast-food restaurant, John said. He said when a customer orders and leaves the register at most places, they don’t see anybody again.

“They’re all behind the counter, whereas at Culver’s, we have the guest attendants who take care of the tables and pick up your tray and get your refill,” he said. “The hospitality person is there to visit with you, and if you want to talk, we will talk. If you want to eat, that’s fine, too.”

The average stay at a fast-food restaurant is 15 minutes, he said.

“You come in, get your food, eat and you leave,” he said. “What’s the sense in hanging around? At Culver’s, it’s 30 minutes. You’re bringing your friends. You’re talking.”

John also gave a brief description of the ButterBurger and Frozen Custard.

“The crown of the bun for ButterBurger is lightly buttered, so when that hits the meat, it adds a little flavor to that burger,” he said.

The menu also features a burger without the buttered bun.

“Most people get the butter. Most restaurants do it. They just don’t say it’s a ButterBurger,” he said. “It has done very well for us.”

Culver’s Frozen Custard is made every two hours and comes in vanilla, chocolate and the flavor of the day.

“Unlike ice cream, which is a frozen block, the custard comes down in a stream at 18 to 21 degrees, and your taste buds can taste that flavor,” he said. “That’s the difference.”

Culver’s is not the price point of McDonald’s or Burger King, but it’s also not the price point of Applebee’s or Chili’s.

“It’s in between,” John said. “For $10, you can get a great meal and free refills on your drink.”