Camden, NJ’s Elgin Diner in trouble

Elgin Diner, photo copyright June 1993 by Larry Cultrera

I saw a news item about the Elgin Diner of Camden, NJ last night and it was not good news for this beautiful 1958 vintage Kullman diner. According to the article it said the diner has been closed for some time and that the parking lot behind the diner has become a dumping ground for various items including old analog tv sets, and other trash. It also mentioned that long-time owner George Vallianos had sold the diner a few years ago. I guess this news had not reached me about the sale of the diner and that it had been closed.

The diner which became the Elgin had been in bankruptcy in 1960 when it was bought by George’s dad who reopened it in 1961 giving the diner the name of the quality watch he had on his wrist.

I had visited the Elgin during the Society for Commercial Archeology’s “Diner Symposium” held in June of 1993 during the huge “Bus tour” of the Delaware Valley diners. It was in an extreme state of preservation and the food, service and atmosphere made it a highlight of the tour.

This Diner Symposium was also memorable  due to the fact that it was the first time anything like this had happened. There were an esteemed group of people who gave presentations, (of which I am proud to say I was the lead-off speaker). Other people who spoke included Richard J.S. Gutman, John Baeder, Christine Guedon, and Dr. John Levine. One of the more interesting and entertaining speakers was George Vallianos of the Elgin Diner who spoke pretty much off the cuff about the ins and outs of operating a well run diner.

As I said I have some great memories from my brief visit to the Elgin but one in particular stands out to this day… the photo (taken with my camera) by Al Packard (who bought the old Willow Grove Diner from Pennsylvania and moved it to Bainbridge Island near Seattle, WA) This photo was a close-up of myself, Dick Gutman, John Baeder and George Vallianos (see below).

L-R, Larry Cultrera, Dick Gutman, John Baeder and George Vallianos
June, 1993 photo copyright Larry Cultrera

Later on I found out that Steve Boksenbaum of Pittsburgh had done a watercolor of the Elgin Diner. I believe I saw it online and I was surprised by what I saw. I was in the painting entering the diner! I contacted Steve and bought a print of the painting (which proudly hangs on my wall).

Watercolor by Steve Boksenbaum (that’s me with my trademark suspenders going in the front door of the Elgin Diner)

After reading yesterdays article about the Elgin Diner’s current state of affairs, I got to thinking about George and what he was doing. So I looked him up and gave him a phone call. He told me that he sold the diner about 5 and a half years ago due to economic conditions in and around the city of Camden. Even though business was still decent, he decided to sell the diner to interested buyers whom he thought might bring it to the next level if operated properly.

George went on to explain that the two partners who bought the business operated it together for about a year when one of them dropped out for personal reasons leaving the remaining partner to continue. Unfortunately, the diner was closed around August of 2007.

George tells me he  is still in the ‘business” so to speak. He helped to found and operate the Delaware Valley Purchasing Group. This is basically similar to the Pan Gregorian Enterprises out of New York State. Both groups act as a food buying co-op, whose members are usually diner owners as well as owners of other independent restaurants. This helps to keep prices down and increase the bottom line for small businesses which also helps to put them on more equal footing with the large chains who can get similar pricing for supplies due to their ability to buy large quantities.

Here is the link to the CourierPostonline article about the Elgin Diner by Lavinia DeCastro of the Courier-Post Staff….