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How King Kullen got its name

A little boy's drawing inspired the name on the nation's first supermarket, his mother later recalled.

Exterior of the King Kullen supermarket in Montauk

Exterior of the King Kullen supermarket in Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays on July 29, 1993. Company founder Michael J. Cullen based the King Kullen Grocery name on a drawing made by son, Robert. The drawing depicted a crowned king sitting atop a globe... Photo Credit: Newsday/Bill Davis

A little boy’s confusion about the spelling of his surname gave King Kullen Grocery Co. Inc. its distinctive name.

Company founder Michael J. Cullen based its name on a drawing made by son, Robert. The drawing depicted a crowned king sitting atop a globe.

“Our son, Bobby…was sitting by his table very eagerly engrossed in some sort of a drawing,” mother Nan Cullen recalled in a 1937 interview. “His father asked him what he was drawing, and Bobby showed him.”

She continued, “Across the bottom he had printed the title KING KULLEN. Actually, it was because Bobby thought Cullen was also spelt with a K. But the title struck Mike at once.”

Michael Cullen opened the first King Kullen — which the Smithsonian Institution confirmed was the nation's first supermarket — in 1930 in Queens. Nan Cullen assumed control of the company in 1936 after the death of her husband.

Robert Cullen worked in the first King Kullen, before attending the University of Notre Dame, according to his nephew Thomas Cullen.

Robert taught English at Horace Mann School in the Bronx and died in 1992 at age 74.

On Friday, Stop & Shop announced that it will buy King Kullen for an undisclosed amount.

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