BRANDON — A restaurant known for gourmet burgers and drag queen shows will debut in Brandon on Feb. 28.
Valrico resident Kurt King will open his fifth Hamburger Mary's Bar & Grille at 2016 Town Center Blvd., a space formerly occupied by the Boomerang Martini Bar, Green Iguana and Yucatan Live.
Despite the SouthShore and Brandon area's conservative leanings, King believes the area is overdue for its first club catering to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders.
"I know a lot of people in Brandon who are gay and will welcome the area's first LGBT club," King said. "The response so far has been overwhelming. When we put up our Facebook page for the new restaurant, the response was off the charts."
In the few weeks since posting the Facebook page, it's garnered 2,335 "likes."
"There were only a couple of negative comments," King said.
He attributes this to the restaurant's inclusiveness, kitsch appeal and charity outreach.
Hamburger Mary's is well known for its drag queen bingo charity events, which attract members of mainstream service clubs. The Riverview Woman's Club will hold a Drag Queen Bingo fundraiser at the Regent on March 9.
"I know a lot of folks from the FishHawk area who come to the Ybor City restaurant for our charity events," King said. "Now with the opening of this restaurant, we can focus on charities in the Brandon area: kids, Little Leagues, the arts."
Although Hamburger Mary's is known nationally as an LGBT venue, King said the hallmark of his Florida franchises is their acceptance of customers of all political and sexual persuasions.
"We welcome everybody as long as they leave their rhetoric at the door and just have a good time," he said. "It's a rule of mine: we're not there to judge anyone. That attitude just brings out the best in people."
A longtime gay activist, King was instrumental in resurrecting Tampa Bay's gay pride parade and now serves as vice president of Tampa Bay Pride.
He said he opened his first Hamburger Mary's in Ybor City in 2008 out of a desire to help his unemployed gay friends.
"A lot of my friends lost their jobs during the recession so I opened the restaurant to give them work," he said. "Now I have 225 employees from every walk of life, including 30 transgender people and 45 drag queens. I love my employees."
When it comes to creating the ambience of the new Hamburger Mary's, King has had a lot of help from the flamboyant twin co-owners of Hamburger Mary's International, based in Chicago.
Ashley and Brandon Wright, 44, who starred in the CBS reality show Undercover Boss last year, have been hands on when it comes to decorating the Brandon restaurant.
"It's going to be Hamburger Mary's on steroids," said Ashley Wright. "Green Iguana left behind a 20-foot lizard that we've bedazzled with jewels and nail polish. I think we should call her Lessie Lizard."
The restaurant's green exterior is now painted a vivid purple and the interior features an eclectic mix of kitschy décor.
"When the first Hamburger Mary's opened in San Francisco in 1972, they didn't have a lot of money so they used mismatched chairs and tables and decorations from yard sales," King said. "We've continued that tradition but I admit we went overboard decorating this restaurant."
Wright said the space is ideal for the newest Hamburger Mary's, which will offer a full lunch and dinner menu, full bar, cabaret-style drag queen revues on weekends, drag queen bingo and MaryOke! Karaoke nights.
"I don't want to scare the neighbors but we do plan to have DJs and dancing on some nights," said Wright, who will be on hand for the restaurant's opening. "There's not a lot to do in Brandon and a lot of people don't want to drive all the way to Ybor. We're hoping to provide some fun night life."
Nevertheless, King said he's sensitive to the surrounding community.
"If the music's too loud, they can call me and I'll turn it down," he said. "I make a point of personally responding to any complaints."
Wright believes, if the reception to the opening of Florida's seven other Hamburger Mary's is any indication, the Brandon restaurant will be an instant success.
"I can't believe the way Florida has embraced Hamburger Mary's," he said. "We now have 17 restaurants and most of them are in Florida."
Contact D'Ann Lawrence White at firstname.lastname@example.org.