The Unexpected Connection Between Culver's And A&W

One of the most beloved fast food chains in the Midwest, Culver's, can trace its roots to one of the oldest in the world, A&W. It all started in 1919 when A&W founder Roy W. Allen began selling handmade root beer from a street stall in Lodi, California. Three years later, he teamed up with Frank Wright, one of his employees (and the "W" of A&W), and began leasing root beer stalls to expand business into the state capital of Sacramento. As the post-World War I population exploded in California, so did the successes of A&W; in fact, it was the first restaurant chain in the world to sell franchises, beginning to do so as early as 1925 (per the official website).

Immediately following World War II, there was an economic boom, coupled with a significant rise in personal car ownership and highway construction, which all worked to begat the birth of the American suburb, according to the book "Fast Food and Junk Food" (per Google Books). To satisfy the cravings of this growing middle class, the fast food concept spread like wildfire throughout the country. A&W was one that capitalized on the roaring economy, even going so far as opening up its first international location in Winnipeg, Canada in 1956, according to A&W's site.

Moreover, some of the most recognizable American brands — McDonald's, Burger King, Jack in the Box, and Hardee's — were being founded in the late 1940s and 1950s, according to History of Yesterday. A&W was no slouch, either; in the 1960s, its franchise locations totaled in the 2000s. One of those franchises just so happened to be owned by George and Ruth Culver.

Culver's grew out of the ashes of a former A&W franchise location in Wisconsin

George and Ruth Culver had been running their own supper clubs throughout southern central Wisconsin in the 1950s, before ultimately buying an A&W franchise in Sauk City in 1961. By 1968, they sold it and opened the Farm Kitchen Restaurant in nearby Baraboo. Meanwhile, their son, Craig, was earning a biology degree while working at his family's eateries. (He also met his wife, Lea, at the Farm Kitchen.)

Once he graduated, Craig realized that biology wasn't his cup of tea, and instead focused on sharpening his career in the restaurant industry, one in which he had already developed years of experience. With his father's assistance, in 1976 he bought the very same Sauk City A&W that his parents had acquired fifteen years earlier. He eventually sold it but then repurchased it again in 1984 with an overhaul in mind. Most notably, at his new spot, the food was prepared to order (unlike competitors that had food sitting under heat lamps for hours). Also, local Wisconsin favorites were the stars of the menu, including cheese curds and frozen custards (ice cream made with egg yolks and more butterfat). Finally, he spruced up the façade, making the colors a hospitable combination of blue and white.

What was this new place to be called? Culver's, of course, named for its founders Craig and Lea Culver and also serving as an homage to Craig's parents who helped guide him every step of the way. In another nod to its past starting out from one single A&W location, Culver's now sells its own delicious root beer and floats.