There’s something about Mary… and Food/Travel Editor Rick Karlin sits down with Hamburger Mary’s owner to find out.
For those not familiar with the Hamburger Mary’s franchise here’s a quick background. The original Hamburger Mary’s, opened in 1972 by a couple of hippies, was a funky dive put together on a shoe-string budget. With humble beginnings as an eclectic late-night beer and burger joint, Hamburger Mary’s quickly established itself as a staple in San Francisco’s LGBT community. The mismatched flatware and dishes, kooky artwork, and antiques added to the kitsch and charm of the place. It was an “open-air bar and grille for open-minded people” (a motto they still use today), where everyone was welcomed.
There was a lot of anticipation (and gossip) preceding the opening of the Wilton Manors’ Hamburger Mary’s right across the street from Rosie’s, which veteran residents will recall was once, itself, a Hamburger Mary’s outlet, before leaving the franchise and re-opening as an independent operation in 2002.
In the landmark film, “The Boys in the Band” the character Emory says, “Oh, Mary, don’t ask.” Well, not only did we ask, but Ruben Lopez, one of the owners of the new Hamburger Mary’s in Wilton Manors answered.
Rick Karlin: Who are the owners of the Wilton Manors’ Hamburger Mary’s?
Ruben Lopez: Dale Warner and I are the partners in the business. Dale is the owner of the franchise in partnership with Ashley and Brandon from Chicago. Dale and I are also the owners of the Hamburger Mary’s in West Hollywood and Long Beach.
RK: You have a history with Hamburger Mary's. Can you please explain that?
RL: Our history started in the early 2000s. We had just moved from NYC (to California) and were looking to invest in a local business. We came across an opportunity to invest in the original Mary’s franchise in West Hollywood. At that time, we took the establishment over from its original owners and dedicated our time and focus to re-establish it as a location that was welcoming for all people within the West Hollywood and Los Angeles communities. Where we have given back given and continue to give back to the community via events, raffles, and Legendary Bingo which has become part of the Los Angeles community.
RK: What was your background before opening the franchises?
RL: I have always had a history within the food industry. Several of my first jobs as a kid was working for my aunts and uncles within their respective restaurants. After I put myself through school at the University of Texas I moved to New York where I started a career in retail. I had been part of the corporate world for the last 27 years, and have recently retired to focus on our brands.
RK: What was it about Wilton Manors that made it an attractive location for your next Hamburger Mary's franchise?
RL: Dale and I have always enjoyed coming to southern Florida. Wilton Manors has always been a place where we’ve felt a strong connection, similar to Weho and Long Beach. Wilton Manors has such a strong sense of community and belonging.
RK: There’s a lot of speculation about why Hamburger Mary’s opened across that street from Rosie’s, which was once a Hamburger Mary’s franchise. Would you like to address that?
RL: When the franchisers sold the parent operation, some of the original Mary’s, such as Rosie’s, decided to leave. We know and understand the significance that Rosie's has had, and truly respect how it has established itself as a true landmark in Wilton Manors. To be truthful, there was no calculated attempt to open across from Rosie’s. We have heard and read that we did this on purpose and that we wanted to take them down … and that is TOTALLY FALSE. Rosie’s is an amazing example of how hard work, great people, and dedication to a message, result in success.
We are not here to compete against Rosie’s, or any other bars and restaurants. We are here to add to the Wilton Manors community and the business landscapes on this side of the drive and that is why we got interested in the current location. We feel that we can be a successful addition that compliments the businesses and community.
RK: Why not one of the other locations along the Drive that was vacant?
RL: At that time we had no idea there were any other available locations. It was literally a situation where we were at the Manor in January and were walking over with friends and noticed that the location was vacant. The space itself lends itself to grow, in Mary’s way. It provides another business on this side of the Drive that, hopefully, can attract more people to visit and walk to this end to enjoy Rosie’s, Lit, Spencer’s, Mary’s, and all the other amazing mom and pop businesses within this two-block radius.
RK: What are the challenges of opening a restaurant during the time of COVID, especially here in South Florida?
RL: The city was such amazing support in enabling us to open, the process was faster than we expected and we had to quickly interview and hire enough staff to open for Pride. A few weeks, after Pride, we had a challenging situation; a gas leak in the kitchen, the weekend prior to July 4. The Fire Marshall had us close the kitchen until approved and reconnected. With it being a holiday week, it took two weeks to get re-established. Through that, we had to remain at a very limited menu, limited days and hours of operations, as we couldn’t use anything in the kitchen until it was approved and turned on by the gas company and city.
Staffing has been the biggest challenge. We have hired amazing people, wait staff and bartenders, and managers, but we have had a huge struggle in hiring kitchen support. It has been hard attracting anyone that wants to work in the kitchen, who has had experience. I know this has been the biggest challenge for all restaurants in South Florida. I don’t think the public is fully aware of the magnitude and need for workers in the industry.
This was frustrating, as we kept hitting a brick wall. I also got frustrated with the feedback, but not surprised, that we were getting, but also aware that the community had no idea what we were going through. We kept telling ourselves we're here for the long haul and through this, we will grow and evolve.
We have since utilized these weeks to get grounded on our wait staff and bar staff. We’re excited to share that we now have a good solid kitchen staff.
Chef Howie, previously from Rumor’s and most recently, The Pub, has joined our Mary’s team. We have expanded our Mary’s menu and we will be showcasing Chef Howie specials on a daily basis. We are now open every day of the week for lunch until closing. We have set our grand opening to be Aug. 27/28 and we look forward to everyone to eat … drink… & be Mary…. and give back!