Culver’s owner launching new restaurant in Pullman amid COVID-19

BARON WALLER, OWNER of five Culver’s restaurant’s including one in Bronzeville and a new location that just broke ground on Tuesday in Pullman. When the Pullman location opens next year it will be the first free standing restaurant built in the neighborhood in 35 years.

By Isi Frank Ativie

It is common for any successful Black business owner to want his associates to attain and sustain financial stability. And it helps even more when one successful individual pays it forward and reaches out to help others.

Since the 20th century, Blacks have created and sustained hundreds of businesses, which has not only benefited their bottom lines and financial status, but also these businesses have helped American citizens, both Black and white. Since the beginning of this century, more Black businesses have opened which contributes to financial wealth and works to provide legacies for Black families.

Chicago native Baron Waller is a prominent Black business owner who owns four Culver’s restaurants located in Will County and in the Bronzeville neighborhood. He is slated to open another eatery, this one in the Pullman area. Since 2011, Waller has been a role model to both his employees and customers who frequent his restaurants.

“You have to make people feel at ease when they come to your restaurant,” Waller said. “And also for the people who work for you, you have to make them feel that you really care.”

Waller grew up in North Lawndale with a single mother and four siblings, including his twin brother Byron, who is an associate professor at Governors State University.

The family eventually moved to Chatham on the South Side when he was still a youngster. His mother had a tough time financially but instilled a sense of excellence and survival in her children. Waller and his brother attended Lane Tech High School, which took them more than an hour to reach via public transportation. According to Waller, “We just thought it was important to continue to go there, because it’s a great school and education was very important.”

After graduating from high school, Waller worked for Crain Communications in Chicago before transferring to the Detroit headquarters shortly afterward. He worked as a file clerk and was quickly promoted to a computer analyst position, a position he held for 11 years.

He graduated magna cum laude from Wayne State University in 1992 with a triple major in business management, marketing and computer science. The future Culver’s franchisee earned an MBA at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business in Ann Arbor three years later. Eventually, Waller returned to Chicago and worked for IBM in four positions during his 14 years there.

Waller explained, “I found that it was a lot of pressure doing that. I was willing to do something different, and that’s when I took my experience at Culver’s by realizing that this can be an alternative.”

One day, Waller and his son went to a Culver’s restaurant for the first time in south suburban South Holland. He was impressed with the hospitality the staff members afforded customers. This experience provided the spark for him to consider becoming a restaurant owner. He opened his first Culver’s in New Lenox, Illinois five years later.

“It was all from the great experience that we had with wonderful hospitality,” Waller said, adding it was “the extra special way that we felt when they brought out the highchair for my son, and our food. The experience itself really got me to really think about opening a Culver’s.”

Waller’s wife, Janeen, is currently the Vice President of Human Resources for the Culver’s restaurants owned by the Wallers. The two met while working at IBM.

“She understood the experience of working with IBM,” Waller said. “She also understood that we needed to do something different, and this encouraged and helped me to open my first Culver’s.”

Waller reached out to his childhood friend, Ron Wells, who will be a part owner of the new Pullman location.

Waller talked about his ability to help others find financial security: “Seeing someone come in who’s trying to find their way, and in the end, you help them find their way.”

His opening in the Bronzeville community meant a lot to him. “It was very important for me that we continue to work in the Black community. We need jobs too, and that’s the only way that we can really change things. You have to get into the community and create jobs, because people need to work and eat. That’s part of our motivation.”

Since this past March, all restaurants in Illinois have been very cautious about protecting the livelihoods of customers and employees due to the coronavirus pandemic. Waller knows how not complying with guidelines could impact his business ventures.

To this end, he instructs his employees to follow the PPE protocols and requires them to monitor everyone’s temperature, especially the customers.

“We’re following CDC guidelines specifically,” Waller mentioned. “We want to keep everything clean and safe.”

A driven Black business owner, Waller plans to handle and overcome any challenges that come his way, while serving as a role model for others. “I would love to open more in the city for the specific reason to create wealth for other people. The only way you can make a difference is doing it for someone else, too.”

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