In 1987 there was a single Culver’s restaurant in Sauk City. On March 13, the company opened its 620th restaurant in Venice, Florida. Long-time employees Dale and Jody Ballweg have been there for everything in between.

The two started working at the Sauk City restaurant in the mid-1980s when there was just the one location. They met there and between the two, worked every station in the restaurant. They have the longest tenure of anyone on the support team except co-founder Craig Culver, said Culver Franchising Inc. director of public relations and communications Paul Pitas.

Both started out in high school working as entry-level employees for the restaurant, with Jody Ballweg working her way up from crew member in 1987 and held a variety of other positions up to director or training, the position she currently holds.

Dale Ballweg also served as a crew member and held a variety of positions before becoming director of operations for Culver’s in 2006; a position he still holds.

“We’re the only ones in the organization that can say we started at the first Culver’s when it was the only Culver’s, and we had the honor of working alongside the four co-founders; George, Ruth, Craig and Lea,” Dale Ballweg said.

Dale Ballweg’s career focus with the company has been to support new franchises. Jody Ballweg’s path has emphasized supporting Culver’s team members though various training initiatives.

Now married 21 years, the two started dating when Dale was general manager and Jody was assistant manager.

“It was not something we really promoted” Jody said. “We worked a lot together and enjoyed a friendship. It was common for us to all hang out together.”

Craig Culver didn’t find out the two were a couple until nearly two years after they started dating.

Dale said Culver had given several tickets to a Badgers game to an employee to hand out to co-workers.

“Craig said to give some to Jody and to give some to me… ,” Dale said. But the employee who passed them out told Craig they probably wanted to go together.

“I can still remember the look on his face,” Jody said. “He was so struck that he didn’t know.”

“Work was work – it still is,” Dale said.

Dale said in the first restaurant recipes for everything from tartar sauce to George’s chili were made from scratch right in the restaurant.

“Now to make it easier on the restaurants, we have the suppliers make it,” Dale said. “But even though the suppliers make it, it’s still Culver’s 40-year-old recipes.”

Jody said the use of suppliers makes the product more consistent between franchises, so customers can expect the same quality of food anywhere in the country.

“Everyone is set up to succeed; even how we grant our franchises is different,” she said.

Jody said she remembers taking orders with pen and paper and then entering them into a cash register at the original restaurant.

“Just as important as what’s changed is what hasn’t – and that’s the values we have instilled in our people and the quality of our product,” Dale said. “Cooked to order hasn’t changed. It hasn’t changed from store 1 to 620.”

Hospitality also remains a core value for Culver’s, Dale said.

“It was instilled in us from Ruth (Culver) and Lea (Culver) since day one, to invite people in as if they were coming into your own home.”

Follow Autumn Luedke on Twitter @Apwriter1

Reporter, Sauk Prairie Eagle