Life is Sweet
Cory Chvala took his first restaurant job, delivering pizza, the summer he graduated high school in Madison, Wisconsin, delivering pizza. From there, he worked as a server at Houlihan’s before being promoted to bartender. His first management position with Houlihan’s came at age 21 and Chvala credits that job for teaching him attention to detail and leading by example.
Fast forward to 2004 when Chvala and wife, January, who he has been married to for 21 years, opened their first Culver’s location in Meridian Township along with a business partner who they later bought out. The Chvalas opened their second Culver’s location in Okemos in 2015 and their West Saginaw Highway location in 2017, partnering with their CPA.
Chvala wasn’t sure he’d like owning a chain.
“Creativity in ‘chain’ concepts is often limited,” he said. “When you have your own concept, you can change products and techniques. I was pleasantly surprised that Culver’s is very creative in their product offerings.”
Chvala was excited to play a part in a company that has proven to be innovative with a strong reputation.
“The other thing that is fantastic about a chain concept is that the items are proven as winners before they even hit our restaurants. The success rate of a franchise is way higher than an individual concept,” Chvala said.
Chvala touts the Culver’s burger as his favorite item on the menu. “We use the best beef in the industry,” Chvala said.
Work ethic is important to the dad of 9-year-old Corbin, his outgoing son who enjoys spending time at the restaurants. Chvala hopes his son will be working for the business as he ages, and that he gains the work ethic to be successful. There is no pressure to take over the family business; however, “I always tell him that I hope he is a dentist,” Chvala joked.
Work-life balance is important. Chvala used to work all day every day, but family time is a priority.
“These days we have 150 wonderful employees who handle most of the daily functions of the restaurants,” Chvala said. “I visit each restaurant at least once a week and help them work through the challenges they are facing. I am fortunate to be able to drop off and pick up Corbin from school most days.”
Chvala knows that time with family is key.
“I feel like our work is a vessel to create the necessary money to enjoy with your family. Our lives are short and go fast – so I do what is necessary to support all or our restaurants and team members so they can take care of all of our guests.” Chvala said. “If there is ever a need for me to work additional hours my family is extremely supportive of doing what it takes to continue to uphold our standards and values in our restaurants. Every once in a while, Corbin even comes to work with me!”
Regarding restaurant ownership as a career for consideration, Chvala’s advice is sage. “Be careful, everyone has different strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “It isn’t an easy business. You have to be confident in your strengths to carry you through the tough times, but you also have to be willing to accept your weaknesses and work on improving them.”
When asked what Chvala would tell his 20-year-old self about life today, he didn’t hesitate when he said, “Go for it dude! I wouldn’t change a thing about where I’m at today,” Chavala said. “If I changed one thing I wouldn’t be here. I love my wife, son and family.”
It sounds like just like his restaurants, for Chvala, life is sweet.