Being a member of Culver’s True Blue Crew takes a lot of heart. With a “People First” approach, any dedicated Culver’s employee knows that making an impact is an important part of the job. Undergoing the Culver’s mentee program and eventually owning a franchise, though? That requires even more heart.
Culver’s of Valparaiso has not just one, but two employees who have participated in the mentee program. Both are well on their way to owning their own restaurant. Marilyn Christman, who completed the program over two years ago, and David Ortiz, who will complete the program at the end of July, are slated to move to South Carolina at the end of the year to open a new restaurant.
“The Mentee program was designed to allow more career opportunities,” Ortiz said. “It was designed to allow somebody who was a team member to become a franchisee, business owner, and have ownership in the community. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity, one that I don’t think you’ll get at many places. There are a lot of emotions involved and you learn a lot of things.”
The program has led many down a positive path and teaches the necessary skills franchise owners will need. From finances to data breaches to crisis response, the mentee program’s classes are geared toward teaching the right people how to run a restaurant.
“[At Culver’s,] they do a good job of exposing you to various trades, and each class gives you full exposure to what you’ll experience as a business owner,” Ortiz said. “You get glimpses of the things you’ll be doing. It’s daunting at times, as you start to understand, but there’s as many hopes in each session where you get excited, and as you prepare and ready yourself.”
The mentee program has positively impacted both Ortiz and Christman. While Ortiz knew early on he wanted to take part in the program (his journey with Culver’s began in 2010, while he was still in high school,) Christman was a bit more cautious. Ultimately, she dove in.
“My road was a bit longer than David’s,” Christman said. “Craig Culver came in and he gave a speech that literally changed me as a person. He talked about how we’re in the People Business—we serve burgers, but it’s about the people. It snowballed from there, but it took me a while. Once you feel the Culver’s culture in your heart, I’m a firm believer in it.”
Once in the program, it proved to be rigorous and informative. With a tough application process followed by a 16-week training program, the program is meant to make sure mentees are fully prepared for their future as a franchise owner. A leadership evaluation is even conducted at the Sauk City, Wisconsin store, where mentees may have as many as six interviews with senior leadership.
“You have senior leadership just randomly come in,” Ortiz said. “So you’ll be sweating on the grill and then the VP of training comes in and you have to sit down and do a mini-interview.”
The opportunity to make an impact through Culver’s and participate in the program has been a great opportunity for Ortiz and Christman, but both understand that they alone do not make a successful restaurant. Encouraging a team and appreciating their work is of the utmost importance.
“Many of the people employed here are in their teens; it’s their first job, in most cases,” Ortiz said. “We’re teaching them more than just required skills for the position here. It’s life skills and social skills and interacting and having responsibility.”
Christman added, “Whatever you’re learning here, you can use that in your life somewhere.”
While the Culver’s mentee program isn’t for everyone, it’s a great opportunity for those looking to take those steps. For Christman and Ortiz, the opportunity and Culver’s values fell right in line with their own. They’re slated to open the first Culver’s in Summerville, South Carolina toward the end of 2018, with more to follow!
“I believe in our core values and what we stand for [at Culver’s,]” Ortiz said. “The thing with Culver’s is that you can own something and actually have something tangible in a community to which you belong.”
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