Hamburger Mary’s Tampa alleges homophobia led to closure, mulls reopening

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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TAMPA | Kurt King, owner of multiple Hamburger Mary’s locations throughout Tampa Bay, is alleging that homophobia contributed to the abrupt closure of the LGBTQ chain’s Tampa location in Ybor Nov. 6.

It was that same day that King announced Hamburger Mary’s Tampa and Mary’s Pub House Tampa would close. “We, along with our management team and dedicated staff, have done our best to keep Mary’s doors open for nine years, but the latest challenge over the last couple of weeks has proven to be too much to overcome,” he shared. “It was our pleasure to serve the entire community.”

The closure followed the restaurant’s brief hiatus Oct. 24-25. The Florida Dept. of Health (DOH) in Hillsborough County reported a positive case of Hepatitis A in an employee, a highly-contagious liver infection caused by the Hepatitis virus. They subsequently offered vaccinations to employees and diners that frequented the establishment Oct. 4-20.

Tampa Bay ABC affiliate WFTS reported Nov. 2 that “the emergency closure was actually due to live roaches and rodents in the kitchen.” They noted 40 live and dead roaches were found in the bar area and an area designated for chemical storage.

As Watermark has reported, King remedied violations prior to the restaurant’s closure and the outbreak of Hepatitis A was not limited to Hamburger Mary’s Tampa. According WFTS, there were 559 confirmed cases reported in Florida in 2018 and as of Oct. 30, a known 36 cases were reported in Hillsborough County alone.

King, who discussed Hamburger Mary’s Tampa’s closure with WFTS in a segment which aired Jan. 7 and 8, advises that the employee in question tested negative for Hepatitis A. He also provided Watermark with lab results conducted by Tampa General and dated Oct. 21 that show a negative test result, though no patient name was included.

The WFTS report to which King contributed indicated that there were four additional Hillsborough County restaurants with employees infected with Hepatitis A in 2018. The outlet found that the DOH in Hillsborough County did not alert the public to the cases.

Dr. Douglas Holt, head of the DOH in Hillsborough County, advised ABC that “the other ones did not have, in our investigation, conditions that have warranted or put the public at risk.”

According to King, it was homophobia that led to the Tampa location’s closure. “He mentioned the reason they came after Hamburger Mary’s was because of our culture,” King publicly shared and reiterated to Watermark following the report. “What he meant was he came after Hamburger Mary’s because we are gay owned and operated.”

According to the DOH in Hillsborough County’s Public Information Officer Kevin Watler, references to the restaurant’s culture referred to its poor “hand washing culture.”

“I can confirm absolutely that we are not homophobic,” Watler tells Watermark. “We work very closely with all populations and that is definitely not the case. We’ve taken no homophobic views in response to the Hamburger Mary’s incident.”

King – who is exploring a reopening for Hamburger Mary’s Tampa and still owns the franchise’s St. Petersburg and Brandon locations – disagrees. “The truth is coming out,” he says, adding that he and his legal team are preparing for legal action.

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