At a Glance
Prairie du Sac, WI
Average project duration
In the Midwest, the blue signs with “Culver’s” written on them in white cursive signify that a familiar butterburger or frozen custard is just around the corner—but it takes a lot to maintain the brand that patrons love so much. Steve Datka, director of design services at Culver Franchising System Inc., manages the firm’s portfolio of 460 properties by using consistent construction methodologies, a list of brand standards that link new and established locations, and a team of experienced construction professionals capable of tackling each new challenge with long-term brand recognition in mind. This would seem challenging enough, but Datka’s working to incorporate sustainably innovative elements into each location, too, improving energy efficency while increasing customer satisfaction.
At Culver’s, the message is clear: the patrons come first. Each project, whether a new build or a renovation, happens with the guest experience and the brand standards of Culver’s in mind. Datka and his team work to create an environment that’s inviting from the moment customers first see the building to the time they choose a seat in the dining room. “We want our guests to be engaged with the building, with their surroundings, and, of course, with our great food and hospitality,” Datka says.
A series of store prototypes helps guide the design and construction of new locations—and the reimaging efforts at existing restaurants. “We collaborate with our franchise partners to identify interior and exterior options,” Datka says. The various layouts allow for slightly different building styles, sizes, and finishes, all designed to echo the Culver’s brand identity. “There’s a list of established criteria and standards for them to work with,” he says. “It really helps us streamline the process.”
The latest series of prototypes includes an improved dining area. “Instead of the standard cafeteria-style seating, we’ve created configurations that enhance privacy and the guest experience,” Datka says. New textures and materials are used to delineate seating “zones,” and different wall and ceiling heights help break up the space further while maintaining good sight lines so that team members are able to quickly and efficiently serve guests. “It really personalizes the space,” Datka says.
Many dining areas are also now surrounded on three sides by windows, and a number of Culver’s locations are adding skylights in the seating areas and in back-of-house sections. “It’s really been an effective way to grab some natural daylight and pull it into the space,” Datka says. An additional energy-efficiency measure is the careful selection of sustainably sound equipment, from grills and fryers to rooftop HVAC units. “We constantly look at ways to capture and save energy,” Datka says.
Green efforts at Culver’s will move to the next level in late 2012, when its prototype in Baraboo, Wisconsin—which has been in operation since mid-2011—is scheduled to achieve a LEED certification rating. “We’ve incorporated a number of sustainable elements into the Baraboo prototype so [that] we can gain additional expertise and knowledge about green practices,” Datka says. “From that experience, we’ll be able to educate our franchise partners on new sustainable methods as we move forward.” It’s a move that today’s eco-conscious customer can only be excited about. ABQ
Meet Steve Datka
Where did you go to school?
I went to a number of different schools. I started out in business management at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, then got my architectural degree from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.
What was your first construction job?
I was an electrician in a suburb of Milwaukee. I worked for a residential electrical contractor during the summers while going to college. That’s where I started learning more about construction, and I found a passion for it.
How did you wind up working for Culver’s?
I don’t know if this happens very often anymore, but I actually replied to a newspaper article in the Wisconsin State Journal advertising for a project architect. That was almost 10 years ago already.
What personal goals do you have in your current role?
To lead a good, quality team as we continue to move forward—and to help the wonderful Culver’s brand grow and expand into all 48 lower states. I don’t know if I’ll make it to 1,000 restaurants—we’re at around 460 right now—but it sure would be exciting.