Laskowski finds his niche
One may not expect that butter burgers and cheese curds are a meal fit for a basketball player. But when you’re John Laskowski, this meal means much more than feeding your appetite. For Laskowski, this meal tells a story of loyalty and dedication.
Once a three-time Big Ten champion with Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosier basketball team, “Super Sub” John Laskowski traded in his red and white for blue eight months ago, becoming the owner/operator of Bloomington’s Culver’s.
When you look at his résumé, it seems Laskowski has had a complete life. He spent four years playing basketball for the Hoosiers, two years with the Chicago Bulls, and 33 years as a basketball commentator. However, life was not always easy for Laskowski, who’s father passed away when he was eight years old and his single mother struggled to make ends meet throughout his childhood.
“When I signed my first contract with the Bulls it included a signing bonus of $10,000,” says Laskowski. “My mother wasn’t even making that much in a year.”
Though his relationship with his parents was short lived, as both were passed away by the time he was drafted in 1975, family has always been a focal point for what he has done throughout his career.
This is evident early in his life in one of the very few memories he shared with his father. At an Iowa-Indiana basketball game one year before his father’s passing, Laskowski recalls cheering for the Iowa team as they came out of the locker room and onto the court. Laskowski’s father took notice of this and said, “Son, you are Indiana. Wherever you go, you’ll be a Hoosier.” Little did Laskowski know, he would be recruited and later play for the Hoosiers.
Because his relationship with his parents was cut short, Laskowski does not take any of the time he has with his children for granted. So much so that Laskowski’s children are his employees. His daughter is a cashier while his son, Scott, works as the general manager of the restaurant. Laskowski says his wife, Alice, also helps from time to time.
“I love working with my son because I am too old to run the restaurant myself and he brings a youthful energy each day,” says Laskowski. “If you ever get a chance to work with your father or son, you should definitely consider it,” Laskowski told HSJI students durtng an interview at his Bloomington venue.
While Laskowski does seem to enjoy running Culver’s, it is hard not to wonder why a former professional basketball player and long-time commentator would want to go into the restaurant business. For Laskowski the answer is simple: he loves helping and interacting with people.
While in college Laskowski says he was “typically pretty shy.” However, this all changed for him when Coach Knight asked him to be a TV commentator for the basketball team. Unsure of what to do in the booth, Knight simply told him, “when the red light comes on, start talking.” This bit of advice helped him not just in broadcasting but in the restaurant business.
“Broadcasting taught me about helping others, as I was able to share my knowledge of the game with the viewers who listened,” says Laskowski. “If I looked at myself as a basketball player only, it wouldn’t have worked out well. When you do what you do think about how you can help someone and make someone else’s day.”
Laskowski believes Culver’s is different than other fast food restaurants because it isn’t too cheap, and it isn’t too expensive. He describes Culver’s as a place where families can come in and enjoy a good meal in a good environment. Unlike other restaurants, Laskowski, the owner, is always present, even though he may not always need to be.
“Culvers is a niche (between cheaper fast-food and more expensive high-profile establishments), just as I was a niche off the bench. Culvers likes to have the owner in the restaurant at all times. We’re just a little better at it than all other fast food restaurants,” says Laskowski.