CALEDONIA — The parking lot is perfectly paved. The signature blue is as blue as ever. Walking in, the new Culver’s restaurant at 4542 Douglas Avenue is shiny and inviting, complete with holiday decorations and a sign at the front that, for many, feels too good to be true: “Culver’s.” And underneath it, “Caledonia, WI.”
The long-awaited Culver’s in Caledonia opened Monday — its parking lot was completely filled at 4 p.m. — joining a slew of new businesses located in the Douglas Avenue corridor. Just over the summer, Starbucks and O&H Danish Bakery opened across the street.
The Culver’s opened in time with the owners’ schedule of being open by the end of the year, after hubbub about where the new location would be in the first place. It was initially proposed for an intersection bordering Mount Pleasant along Highway 31 before owners decided on the location of a former gas station next to Arbee’s Liquor in Caledonia.
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Sitting at a table with the four members of the Haman family who own the new Culver’s — couple Tom and Sue, and two of their kids, Jake and Alisa — feels like sitting at a table with your own family members as they shared their prospects for the latest restaurant.
“We are beyond proud,” said Sue and Tom of their kids, who are at the helm of the most recent location. “The vision is about more than just opening more stores. It’s about the community, the (employees) here.”
Mentors for teens, others
For one, the family has employed a team of about 100 staff members from across the community who have been training for operation for the last few months.
Alisa — who will continue to be part of leadership at the family’s Culver’s location in Yorkville at 722 South Sylvania Ave., while spending some time helping out at the new location — said there was some concern when hiring during the nationwide labor shortage.
“We started (the hiring process) a little bit earlier than we needed to,” she said.
They took to hiring teenagers, a common Culver’s business practice (Jake and Alisa started as teens before becoming owners) and a potential way to stimulate the workforce amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a good chunk of 14-, 15-year-olds, but we love hiring that young. It gives them a lot of energy. They’re very excited; for a lot of them, it’s their first job,” Alisa said.
Starting young can make way to moving up in the company, Alisa noted. “Once they become (older), they can have more responsibility,” she said, even becoming members of the leadership team if they wanted.
“They’re like mentors,” said Sue of Jake and Alisa. “It’s teaching (teens) that idea of ‘Come in a little early, stay a little late, work hard,’ and that the sky’s the limit … They want to train up kids to be managers, and then as managers to see what their goals in life are. They really put their arms around these kids.”
As for employees with more experience than someone just entering the workforce, Jake said it has given him and his sister an opportunity to help those staff members grow.
At other workplaces, certain employees may have been deemed “not reliable, not fast,” by their employers, Jake said. But in turn, it allows the siblings to look at their own ways of leadership to help those employees improve.
“It’s really cool to see a few of them that have stayed with us, watch them train all the new (employees) too,” he said.
Reaching out to the community
Jake, who will be fully operating the new restaurant for at least the next six months, said his goals are to upkeep the fun culture of the staff while delivering fast, efficient service to customers.
“When you go into places and you see people laughing, the crew having a good time — that’s my goal for the team,” he said.
But also, new systems — like tablet/kiosk ordering or online ordering — may also come to play to make the restaurant more streamlined.
Reaching out to the community is also one of the Haman family’s goals for their most recent Culver’s. Sue said she had been wanting to open a location on the north side for years: “We’ve had hundreds of people saying, ‘We are so glad you’re on this side of town.”
Having a restaurant near the interstate hadn’t allowed for much interaction with the wider community, and their most common customers were travelers, Alisa said.
“Now, it’s more like, ‘Where do we start?’” she said. “It’s going to be exciting as we grow and truly be part of our community.”
Five stories of Racine County residents who chased their dreams in 2021
We all have dreams. The five stories in this collection are of Racine County residents who followed theirs in 2021.
When I was a little girl, on my list of dreams, I wanted to become a teacher, a fashion designer and open a Filipino restaurant with my brother as the head chef and my sister as the waitress, and I would be the hostess. I dreamt of being a movie star.
As you grow older, your dreams change, and in the past year I've spent reporting for the Journal Times, I've been able to fulfill one of the more realistic things on my list: hearing and sharing the stories of real people. And it was most fun for me to hear the stories of real people who achieved their dreams, despite how the last year still living amid the pandemic has challenged us all.
Some Racine County residents chased dreams from their childhood, like Elle Maru, who dreamt of becoming an artist since she was a little girl and has now published two books.
Some residents dreamt of commemorating and bettering the community. Alex Hanesakda opened SapSap restaurant to tell the stories of refugees like his family through his food; Pastor Bill Thompkins wanted to honor the black families who migrated to this area for a better future during the Civil Rights movement; and finally, teenage Isaiah Lambert wanted to end gun violence by starting a basketball league that promoted brotherhood and mentorship.
Some dreams rose from the ashes, like Deon'Te and LaShaya Cottinghams' of opening a new clothing store after trials that left their family homeless.
Every dream, big or small, can mean a lot to us. Hopefully, reading these stories from people you may know in the community is a sign for you to follow yours.
Elle Maru has written and illustrated two books since graduating from Carthage College in the summer, but didn't think she would become an artist.
SapSap finally opened its new, permanent location at 2343 Mead St. on Thursday, where the restaurant will continue to spread its message of love and healing through "delicious delicious" food — SapSap directly translate to meaning "delicious-delicious" in Laotian.
Nehemiah Gardens' founder and main coordinator for the new exhibit, Pastor Bill Thompkins, said he is looking for more names to fill the walls with, which he envisions will one day have several thousand names. The purpose of the new exhibit is to "remember, honor and celebrate" those black migrants.
Isaiah Lambert had an idea in May, after the killings of Dontrell Bush and Marcus Caldwell, to fight gun violence in Racine with basketball. On Sunday, that dream became a reality as the Put The Guns Down Basketball Association tipped off.
The name "Regal Society Lifestyle" comes from owners LaShaya and Deon'Te Cottinghams' belief that everyone is either a king or queen, and should wear a crown — whether that crown is self-confidence, strength or another symbol of power.