Cafe Reviews

Culver's Fried Cheese Curds Battle Against McDonaldization

You walk into another dimension. A dimension of far-out fast food. A place where customers eat in rather than drive through, where cleanliness is next to godliness and employees are so happy you'd swear they're about to burst into song. You've just crossed into the Culver's Zone.

Opened on Camelback Road in February, Wisconsin-based Culver's, the Midwest's favorite blue-roofed fast-food joint, is a mystery to many in these parts. Butter burgers? Custard? Fried cheese curds?

"I didn't know what it was," says Antonia Romo, a Culver's assistant manager, "and when I tried the food, it was unlike anything I've ever had, like something I would make at home. I've heard some first-time customers complain about the wait, but they've been McDonaldized."

She should know. Romo, a manager at a McDonald's for 12 years, says the five-minute "wait" for freshness can't compete with 90-second McMass-production.

Converted Culverites aren't bitching, they're biting — into burgers with fresh toppings on buttered buns, shaved prime rib sandwiches, even pot roast dinner plates. Fry Girl's fave? The deep-fried cheese curds, addictive chunks of cheddar that go down easy with a house root beer. Then there's Culver's signature dessert — frozen custard. The creamy, eggy, made-fresh-daily treat makes Wendy's Frosty seem like chilled chalk chunks.

You can drive through, but why? Clean, carpeted, and quiet, Culver's is down-home. Diners get comfortable on upholstered seats and read Bible quotes on the walls, a décor choice that Romo says comes from its three owners, one of whom is on-site every day.

"They treat everyone like family," Romo says. "They're always around to talk to and give us support. It's a fun, down-to-earth atmosphere."

It shows. For a fast-food joint, the customer service at Culver's may seem freaky, because we're used to half-hearted greetings. Not at Culver's. Everyone from cashiers to busboys is smiling and helpful. Many customers call the workers by name — one even brought a card and cold medicine to a sick employee.

"We have a customer who gets so excited when he comes in, he can hardly order," Romo says. "We call that being 'Culverized.'"

With the owners planning locations in Scottsdale and the West Valley, the Culver's Zone is broadening.

"And," Romo says, "we're hiring!"

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld