Popular LGBTQ-friendly burger chain Hamburger Mary’s is coming back to Uptown this August, a mere seven blocks from its former home, the recently rebranded M Uptown. Is East 17th Avenue heading for a gay-grill showdown?
The new Mile High Hamburger Mary’s is putting a gay-friendly sports bar concept into the 3,200-square-foot location at 1336 East 17th Avenue that formerly housed BSide at 1336 East 17th Avenue. Mary's first location was at 700 East 17th Avenue, a spot still operated by power couple Jennifer and Jeff Kustok under a different name.
“We parted ways with Hamburger Mary’s in late December of 2015 because our franchise agreement was up and we strongly felt that our homegrown events, relationships and ties to the community would withstand the name change, which it certainly has,” says Jennifer Kustok. “We’ve been strong and proud partners with the LGBTQ community for the past ten years. We’re confident that the atmosphere, service, food, drink and fabulous entertainment we’ve provided is second to none.”
After dissolving their relationship with the national chain of gay-friendly burger eateries, the Kustoks worked hard and fast to change the name, menu and look of their business, keeping only the karaoke and reputation for drag-centric shows that they'd built over their decade as Mary’s; the lineup includes Dreamgirls, Denver’s longest-running weekly drag revue, and two celebrated drag bingo nights.
A few months into their successful rebranding, the Kustoks learned that one of their former managers was a partner in the new Mary’s. “The franchise was fair game once we were no longer associated with Hamburger Mary’s International,” says Jennifer Kustok, “but we were disappointed and shocked that a trusted manager of ours, of ten years, was in the process of securing a Mary’s franchise and location while being currently paid and employed by M Uptown.”
The Kustoks weren't surprised by the Mary's plan, though. "They actually approached us before our agreement was up to open a Mary’s with the sports-bar theme, and my husband is a huge sports fan," she says. "We just didn’t have the time, energy or felt that we could fulfill that when they offered it. I find it surprising that that is the concept the new Mary’s is going with, as our former employee knows nothing about sports, which I think is hilarious.”
Adding to the drama, the former Hamburger Mary’s Facebook page was taken over a few months ago — a surprise to the Kustoks, who were promptly removed as administrators even though they had built up the page’s popularity over a decade. “Our Facebook page was abruptly taken from us in January of 2016, our pictures, likes (over 12,000), etc.," Jennifer says, "and they’re using it as the new face of Hamburger Mary’s. I only discovered this when a cousin of mine liked the page, thinking that we were opening a new location given our past relationship with the franchise. We knew we couldn’t use the name anymore, but we owned that intellectual property. The page is still filled with photos and memories of what is now M Uptown.”
These bumps aside, Jennifer Kustok insists that she isn't worried about the new Mary's opening just six blocks away next month. “We doing great! We have a lot of cool events and more coming up, and our patio is still one of the best in town,” she says. “But I think this neighborhood is saturated with burgers in general — I just passed a 'Coming Soon' sign on Franklin for a new bar and grille. How many things are there left to grill on 17th?”
The management of the new Mile High Hamburger Mary’s did not respond to our request for a comment; find out more at hamburgermarys.com/denver. Learn more about M Uptown at m-uptown.com.