A regional Midwest chain was just named one of America's best burger restaurants
Culver's ranks as the country's second-favorite burger chain, losing only to West Coast icon In-N-Out, according to Restaurant Business' annual list of America's Favorite Chains.
The list uses data from Technomic to find the chains with the best reputations when it comes to areas including service, ambiance, convenience, quality, and value.
With roughly 600 restaurants in 24 states, Culver's is closer in size to regional classics like In-N-Out than burger giants like McDonald's. For comparison, McDonald's has roughly 14,000 locations in the US.
The first Culver's opened in 1984 in Sauk City, Wisconsin - the hometown of the Culver family.
The chain was founded by Craig and Lea Culver, along with Craig's parents George and Ruth.
Since 1984, Culver's has been known for its ButterBurgers and frozen custard.
The ButterBurger distinguishes itself from the fast-food competition with it buns, which are buttered, then toasted. The butter comes from a small, family-owned creamery, located in Wisconsin less than an hour from Sauk City.
Every Culver's restaurant slow-churns frozen custard in the store. Frozen custard uses egg yolks, making it denser and creamier than the typical scoop of ice cream.
"The definition of frozen custard is no laughing matter," states Culver's website. "By law (that's right, there is legislation about custard!) it must contain a certain amount of egg and butterfat to give it the characteristic smooth, creamy flavor."
That superior taste comes with some extra calories - two scoops of vanilla frozen custard clocks in at 700 calories, compared to McDonald's vanilla cone's 200 calories.
Culver's also serves up a number of variations on its frozen custard you can't find at any other fast-food chain.
The chain serves old-fashioned malts, which are thicker, creamier, and even sweeter than the traditional milkshake.
Culver's has its own signature root beer, which can be paired with frozen custard to make the Culver's root beer float.
And, instead of Dairy Queen's Blizzards, customers can blend in toppings such as M&Ms, cookie dough, and peanut butter in concrete mixers.
Another Culver's classic that customers won't find elsewhere are the cheese curds. The small balls of fried cheesy goodness use white Wisconsin cheddar. In general, many of Culver's menu items source ingredients from local farmers in Wisconsin.
While Culver's is still a regional chain, the company is currently in expansion mode. The chain crossed the 600 restaurant mark in late 2016, as Culver's opened its first locations in North Carolina and Georgia.
Culver's is just one of a wave of "better burger" chains like Habit Burger and Shake Shack that have become increasingly popular in recent years. However, the company isn't worried about the competition.
"A number of these players have raised the bar on what people think is a good burger, and we like competition because it makes us stronger," CEO Phil Keiser told QSR Magazine in 2015. "Our approach is, 'Welcome to the neighborhood. Game on.'"
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