Of the 15 years that Culver’s has been serving frozen custard and ButterBurgers in Sioux Center, Zach Jensema has spent the last 10 years working there.
After graduating from Dordt in 2013 with a business administration major, he applied to positions all over the country, including in his hometown of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
Then he heard about a general manager position at Culver’s in Sioux Center. “I remember thinking, ‘Maybe this is what I am meant to do,’” he says. “I didn’t have a ton of service industry experience; I’d worked for the coffee shops associated with Dordt’s Business Club, but I was intrigued by what I saw at Culver's.”
During his interview, he and owner Angie Rodenburgh spent three hours getting to know one another. A few weeks later, Jensema moved to Sioux Center and began work as a team leader.
“Throughout the years, I moved from team leader to shift leader to general manager and now, to general manager and part-owner,” he says.
Culver’s in Sioux Center isn’t just any Culver’s. They have received many awards, including the prestigious Ruth Award, which “recognizes restaurants whose team members consistently exemplify superior hospitality each and every day.” Three times, they have been finalists for the Culver’s Crew Challenge, where locations compete against each other on quality, service, cleanliness, hospitality, and community outreach; they won once. Plus, they earned the Commitment to Excellence award for “consistently maintaining a high standard in restaurant operations, guest experiences, community relationships, and team development.”
“We finished in sixth place last year, out of over 900 stores in the United States,” he says, beaming. “Our location is well-known at company headquarters. When I went for franchisee training, Culver’s founder Craig Culver saw me and asked, ‘Hi, Zach, how are things in Sioux Center?’"
Jensema and his team know there’s something different about Culver’s in Sioux Center. The furniture, layout, recipes, and uniforms might be the same as at every other Culver’s, but he’s been told time and again that Culver’s in Sioux Center has “a different atmosphere.”
“We hire really good people,” he says. “We want to make sure our employees are kind, have good personalities, and mesh well with the rest of the team. I’ve also had customers tell me that our food is better than other locations, which is weird because we have the same suppliers, same food, same recipes. But it’s because our kitchen staff takes really good care of our produce, doesn’t use stuff that’s out of date, and keeps everything in the kitchen ridiculously clean.”
They also try to wipe down tables right after customers leave, and more. “We try to keep everything super clean, because that invites more people to come back. We wipe out all our different cupboards, dip inside garbage cans, and keep our bathrooms very clean. It takes a lot of people to pull that off, but it’s paid off tremendously.”
Jensema’s work hours vary, but he often puts in long hours. His days generally consist of conducting interviews, providing training sessions, overseeing shift leaders, helping run orders both inside and through the drive through, helping people find seats, and more. “Wherever people need assistance to make the shift run smoother, that’s usually where you’ll find me,” he says.
It’s exhausting work, but Jensema loves it. “People might think it’s just burgers and fries, it shouldn’t be that hard. But this business is about people. I love the people I work with. We’ve been told by our guests that we laugh too much at work, which I think is a compliment. We’re kind to one another and help each other out. It’s not the easiest job every day. But if you can bring joy to your workplace, that’s going to go right to the guest.”
Jensema describes himself as someone who’d rather be behind the scenes running a shift and making sure everything goes smoothly. “I don’t like being the center of attention at all,” he says. “But I feed off of giving other people joy. If I can make someone’s day, that’s awesome.”
Like any restaurant, Culver’s in Sioux Center gets its fair share of complaints, but they also get some really encouraging feedback.
“Recently someone called in and said, ‘That was the best darn burger I’ve ever had,’” says Jensema. “I immediately told the kitchen staff, and each of the cooks said, ‘That was me, I made his burger.’ I like being in a workplace where we feel comfortable enough to joke around. Working in the service industry is difficult, but if you can smile and laugh your way through it, it makes it more fun and less stressful.”
Jensema credits Rodenburgh’s leadership for bringing Culver’s in Sioux Center to where it is today. He’s also thankful for her mentorship during some of the not-so-great moments of working in the service industry.
“You learn to have a lot more grace toward people. Employees who are late can be frustrating. But I have to stop and ask, ‘Why are they late? Is something going on in their personal life that I’m unaware of?’ If we can provide a safe, comfortable, and welcoming environment, which I believe God intended us to do, we have to be patient with people."
“If you’d told me when I was at Dordt that I would own a restaurant someday, I’d have said you’re crazy,” he adds. “The worldview that I learned at Dordt influences my work. Every square inch of the world matters, right? And that includes in the restaurant. I do my best to live that out every day, to have grace for people and do my best in my work.”
Sarah Moss ('10)