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Roadside Magazine Archive 1990-2001

Kullman emerges from bankruptcy

image The world's oldest builder of diners has announced it has emerged from bankruptcy, albeit with new owners. Now called Kullman Buildings Corp, company president Avi Telyas announced via press release that the reformed company "has laid out a strong business plan" to move forward, backed by a "million-dollar marketing plan" to "support the management team's meeting schedule." Expect to see the company begin advertising online, via direct mail, through trade shows, and in other media, according to the release. The release continues "Kullman is moving forward with a determination that would have made founder Samuel Kullman proud. Long known for the finest of craftsmanship and fast turnaround, Kullman will build on its position as the industry leader of permanent modular construction." While this release contains not a single use of the word "diner," Telyas was recently quoted in the Branchburg [i]Courier-News[/i] as saying "We love diners" and not much else, except that he plans to take the company into prefab condo market. If Kullman does finally leave the diner business, it will close the book on almost 80 years of history building some of the finest examples of the architectural form. Usually a leader in the industry, both in terms of quality and diner styling, Kullman built the first colonial diner, the first million dollar diner, and the first 1950s retro style diner. Unfortunately, though always known for its quality, it also became known for its cost. The typical Kullman diner in the past fifteen years usually cost more than $1 million, pricing out all but the better heeled operators. Because of its inability (or unwillingness) to cater to the entry-level market, Kullman lost out to upstart diner companies such as Startlite and Diner-Mite, especially in the growing Southern and Mid-Western markets, and to on-site contractors in the Northeast. Unlike its direct competitors Paramount (P.M.C.) and DeRaffele, Kullman's corporate overhead maintained several divisions. In the late 1960s, the company embarked on a diversification strategy that took them into other markets. The company would go on to build banks, schools, prisons, airports, and even a temple. In the mid-1990s, Kullman built its first embassy, a relatively small structure that it could dismantle in New Jersey and reassemble with their own crew in the foreign nation. The success of that project led to two more, but the fourth embassy, a massive building slated for Dushanbe, Tajikistan proved disasterous. Mired in delays and overruns, the government would eventually cancel the $60 million contract, leaving Kullman under a crushing debt load. Throughout the diversification, Kullman continued to build a steady trickle of diners, but it treated the division as a corporate black sheep. In 1991, we received our first info packet from the company packed with propaganda about the non-diner buildings with only a single sheet describing their "prefabricated restaurants." Despite an effort to offer the standardized "Blue Comet Diner" in 1996, it became clear to this author and much of the diner market that the company sought to shed itself of this heritage. Except that every time anyone did a story about the company, they focused on the company's diner history and gave only passing mention of its other building lines. After all, what looks better splashed on the front page of the business section: A shiny, neon-trimmed diner or a drab, windowless communications shelter? Diner aficionados everywhere, I'm sure, all hope to see Kullman continue building our favorite roadside icons. Count me among them, but the prospects look depressingly dim. The construction and restaurant industries today look little like they did in Sam Kullman's day. I believe we can safely assume that the diner as a restaurant concept will remain with us for years to come, even if the industry that builds true prefabricated diners fades into history. Learn more at [url=http://www.kullman.com]www.kullman.com[/url] .

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