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QueenBurger Finds Permanent Home in Durham's American Tobacco Campus

Return of the queen

QueenBurger rolled up the Astroturf in August but now it's coming back to a permanent home
QueenBurger rolled up the Astroturf in August but now it's coming back to a permanent home (Jennifer Kelly/JNK Public Relations)

By Dispatch Staff

Eight weeks ago QueenBurger served its last smash burger in the small parking lot behind Kingfisher Cocktail Bar in downtown Durham. But fans of the hefty double-pattied treats got some good news today: QueenBurger is coming back.

When the pandemic forced Sean Umstead and Michelle Vanderwalker to temporarily close Kingfisher in March of 2020, the duo did what many other restaurant and bar owners had to do: improvise. The bar’s downstairs location, with its low ceilings, big curved bar, and closely-spaced tables, wasn’t going to work, so they moved operations out into the parking lot behind the building.

That meant laying down artificial turf over the blacktop, rolling out a flat top griddle, and transforming the space into an outdoor burger bar called QueenBurger. The simple menu of double-pattied smash burgers, bags of Symphony potato chips, and accompanying beer and cocktails proved a hit with Durhamites hungry for outdoor dining options.

The Kingfisher's pandemic-era pivot will become a permanent operation
The Kingfisher's pandemic-era pivot will become a permanent operation (Jennifer Kelly/JNK Public Relations)

The Kingfisher reopened for indoor drinks in March of this year, and two months ago Umstead and Vanderwalker rolled up the Astroturf and reclaimed their parking lot. But it turns out QueenBurger was just taking a bit of a break.

This week the couple announced they have found a permanent brick-and-mortar home for their burger operation in Durham’s American Tobacco Campus, with opening slated for early 2022. The 1,800-square foot space will be updated with a 15-foot cocktail bar, and foldable floor-to-ceiling windows on the front can be opened to simulate QueenBurger’s open-air setting.

The menu will still be anchored by smash burgers made with local grass-fed Baldwin Beef, hoop cheese, griddled onions, special sauce and Old North Meats pickles, though they’ll be adding shoestring fries to the offering. Umstead says he is looking forward to crafting a slate of cocktails that are appropriately suited for the fast casual format.

And, yes, there will an outdoor patio with picnic tables and the green Astroturf that became QueenBurger’s hallmark feature.

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Dispatch Staff

The hardworking team behind the Southeastern Dispatch