From COVID Pivot to Smashing Success
Sean Umstead and Michelle Vanderwalker – co-owners of Durham’s award-winning Kingfisher Cocktail Bar & Queeny’s – announce the opening of the first brick & mortar location for their wildly successful burger bar, QueenBurger, in Durham’s American Tobacco Campus Thursday, September 15th at 11am. An official Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting with Wool E Bull will take place prior at 10:30am.
“We’ve found a home for our crushable smash burgers, and couldn’t be more excited to enter the fast-casual burger arena with our own distinctive take,” explained Umstead about their foray into the competitive burger business.
QueenBurger focuses on high quality ingredients, simplicity and – unique to most fast-food restaurants – fresh cocktails, wine and draft beer.
QueenBurger is located at 359 Blackwell St. in Diamond View III (directly adjacent to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park). Follow @EatQueenBurger and visit from 11am-8pm Monday through Saturday.
“Queenburger’s arrival represents a continued commitment at American Tobacco to focus on thoughtful, local brands and operators,” says Adam Klein, director, American Tobacco. “Sean, Michelle and fans of their visionary brand will find they are part of a welcoming and thriving ecosystem of dedicated entrepreneurs who call our historic and growing campus home.”
QueenBurger generated a cult following for their progressive pop-up burger bar when they opened in July 2020 as a pandemic “pivot” to the temporarily closed Kingfisher Cocktail Bar. INDY WEEK recognized QueenBurger as the “Best New Restaurant” in Durham, and EATER heralded it a “favorite”.
Entrepreneurs Sean Umstead & Michelle Vanderwalker applied the same innovative approach to burgers as to their creative bar business – focusing on high quality local ingredients and a community-driven feel. “QueenBurger’s mission is as much about crave-worthy food and drink as it about creating community and a safe, fun place,” said Vanderwalker.
At ATC, QueenBurger fans will recognize their signature concise menu of double-patty “smash burgers” – made of local grass-fed Baldwin Beef, griddled onions, NC Hoop Cheddar Cheese, Special Sauce and pickles, as well as the Carolina Burger with slaw and the sought-after beet-rich Veggie and Vegan burgers – all seared to perfection on a flattop grill, visible to guests. Shoestring fries – plain and “hot” – will be NEW to the line-up. Finish with artisan ice cream sandwiches from Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings and Sweets.
Nationally renowned mixologist Sean Umstead has designed a selection of original cocktails to complement the burger menu.
While sensible cocktails in a fast-food setting may be unconventional, Umstead explained, “since we come from the bar business, our cocktails won’t be an after-thought; we’ve had fun translating them for a fast-casual setting and think it’s a natural extension of our brand and a backyard burger experience,” said Umstead, who’s known for his ground-to-glass craft cocktails at Kingfisher cocktail bar. At this burger joint, expect fresh juices, seasonal adaptations and clever techniques, such as the Charred Jalapeno Margaritas and Frose on the opening menu.
Co-owner Michelle Vanderwalker – the designer behind the QueenBurger and the duo’s other forward-looking brands – is responsible for the “all are welcome” aesthetic in the 1849-square foot space with 15-foot cocktail bar and mix of high and low tables and booths.
“As with our pop-up, and all of our businesses, it’s a priority to connect with the community, and create a welcoming setting; our aesthetics are an important part of that,” explained Vanderwalker.
Fans or the original QueenBurger popup will recognize the colorful murals. In Spring 2023, the front street-facing floor-to-ceiling windows will be converted into foldable windows to recreate the open-air setting evocative of the initial pop-up, decked with astro-turf and picnic tables.
About Sean Umstead & Michelle Vanderwalker
Since these visionary entrepreneurs opened Kingfisher’s ground-to-glass cocktail program celebrating North Carolina’s fruits and vegetables and Vanderwalker’s handmade ceramics in August 2019, Umstead and Vanderwalker’s efforts have been praised by Garden & Gun, PUNCH and The Wall Street Journal. VinePair named Kingfisher among the “10 Best New Cocktail Bars of 2019,” Tales of the Cocktail’s 2020 Spirited Awards nominated Kingfisher as a “Regional Top 10 Honoree, and Vanderwalker was recognized among Durham Magazine’s “Women of Achievement.” In 2021, these trailblazers expanded their brand with Queeny’s – a neighborhood bar and grill, coupled with a coffee bar, bookshop and podcast studio. QueenBurger, the innovative pandemic pivot for backyard smash burgers and cocktails is now open in its permanent home in the American Tobacco Campus.
Thanks to QueenBurger for this Capcom story & for these Capcom photos.