HOW THIS GOWANUS AND FLUSHING BASED RESTAURANT EQUIPMENT MANUFACTURER AND SUPPLIER HAS WEATHERED SEASONS, FADS, AND FOLLIES FOR MORE THAN 35 YEARS

BY AMANDA McCOY PHOTOS BY AMANDA DOMENCH

In the time Ellan Kringer has been in the food service equipment fabrication and supply business, he’s been witness to a sea change in the trade. The Brooklyn born entrepreneur behind Universal Coolers remembers when, after opening his company on an industrial block in Gowanus in the early 1980s, his catalog offered little variety on standard sized equipment.

“We offered two types of refrigerators…that was it,” he recalled. Only a few years into the operation, Kringer foresaw a rising need, one that market standard appliances wouldn’t always be able to satisfy. A shift in the city’s culinary landscape had started; a restaurant industry that was once mainly rooted in high end fine dining was beginning to see a rising number of quick service cafes and casual eateries. So, when Universal Coolers was barely three years old, it expanded its service and began offering custom built equipment to meet the evolving needs of these operations.

“What were once typical dining establishments became cafes and coffee shops,” he said. “With rents going up, people needed to figure out how to utilize their space as efficiently as possible. We figured out how to meet a requirement for them.”

Today, the original factory on 13th Street offers a sweeping range of commercial food service equipment, with options in the hundreds. Buyers now have access to beverage coolers, display cases, salad bars, bar equipment, and a variety of custom pieces.

Even as product diversity picked up steam, the proprietor saw another market gap; his team envisioned the applicability of a space where customers could come in and see firsthand all types of equipment, side by side. There, they could work directly with buyers to design a custom piece, on site. Nearly 35 years after the first factory opened for business, this vision came to fruition, and Universal Coolers Outlet—a showroom and retail location—–opened its doors on Brooklyn’s Flushing Avenue. Up until this point, Kringer and team primarily supplied distributors, contractors, and dealers. Now, they are able to serve restaurants directly.

“You can come feel, touch, and design anything you want at this new location,” he said. “We can help lay out kitchen space and come up with different types of custom equipment.” Business has not been without its obstacles, with uncharted challenges ever developing over the decades.

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“You could write a book about overcoming all the challenges,” the owner laughed. Competition has grown, he explained; the days of only competing with other local operations have long ceased. “In the beginning we were contending with local suppliers, now we are competing with the world.”
A Kings County native himself, Kringer is intimately familiar with the trends of its restaurant industry and the obstacles and needs of its owners. Several factors go into curating the right piece of equipment for each locale, he explained, including the amount of power needed in addition to interior dimensions. Histeam then helps map out exactly what is needed to maximize profits and square footage.

“I’ll meet people who are paying $10,000 a month in rent for a tiny space, and they need a refrigerator,” Kringer said. “They badly need to figure out how to utilize their space as efficiently as possible.”

But throughout his tenure in the business, Kringer’s burliest adversary, he found, was not the competition or pint sized spaces. It was, and continues to be, the rise of the Internet.
“The on line business for this kind of equipment is enormous,” he explained, “but what’s happening is people are overpaying and dealing with hassles they don’t need. I always explain to my customers that just because they are clicking a button, it doesn’t mean they are saving time or money.”

So how does a local brick and mortar compete with a Goliath like the online marketplace? By giving customers, the owner explained, the opportunity to see and design equipment in person.
“Rather than getting a 400 pound item dropped off on their sidewalk, they come to me and see it, touch it, and get it delivered for less,” he said. “It’s still like clicking a button; they’re just doing it here instead. They can design anything they want. They don’t need to clean it, move it, or add wheels to it. It’s custom designed…and it’s done.”

Universal Coolers
120 13th Street / 718.788.8621 /
universalcoolers.com
Universal Coolers Outlet
664 Flushing Avenue /
718.388.7070