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Phil Keiser, CEO of Culver’s, set an example I wish all restaurant chain executives could follow. The man had an understanding and appreciation of agriculture that was unparalleled by his peers in the restaurant industry.
Keiser died of natural causes on October 15, just two days shy of his 61st birthday.
Culver’s, which has more than 550 restaurants in 24 states, is known for its ButterBurger made with fresh beef and Fresh Frozen Custard. But it is also known for its support of those people who produce the food that ultimately enable Culver’s to stay in business.
One of the chain’s trademarks is a series of barns throughout the Midwest that are painted blue, with the message “Thank you FARMERS” painted in white lettering. The company has also been an active supporter of the National FFA program, giving free ice cream cones to people who donate to FFA. Another way Culver’s has shown its support for the youth agricultural organization is by giving blue FFA jackets to members who may not be able to otherwise afford them.
I was fortunate to listen to Keiser speak at the Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholder’s Summit in early May. The event was filled with outstanding speakers, but Keiser was definitely one of the best. I left the summit knowing that even though I don’t live in close proximity to any Culver’s restaurants, I would still stop at one whenever I had the chance, because Culver’s is the type of business I want to support.
A former dairy farmer himself, Keiser took his agricultural background and knowledge and applied it to the way he ran the business.
In an era when restaurant chains are making pledges to end the use of eggs from cage-raised hens, pork from farms using gestation crates, and meat from animals that have been treated with antibiotics, Keiser and his chain were able to make supply chain choices based on science and not emotion.
And he told those in attendance at the summit how important it is that those involved in production agriculture reach out to restaurant chain executives and let agriculture’s story be told by those who know it best.
“We need to not only reach out to consumers, we need to reach out to executives,” he said. “I hear from the activists way more than I hear from the ag community.”
Culver’s has invited the public to “Share Your Phil Story” on its website. Those comments posted about Keiser revealed a true business leader, a kind man and the type of person we would all like to know and even be.
Thank you, Phil, for all you did for agriculture and for humanity.