Hamburger Mary’s in Andersonville is using one of the burger bar’s most valued resources to help its carryout business. Drag queens, a familiar sight at the LGBTQ-themed restaurant, are now being deployed to drop off orders to vehicles parked outside.
“We thought if we’re going to do this, let’s do something that sets us apart, and have fun with it,” co-owner Ashley Wright says.
Known for burgers and beers, the 18-location chain has locations from West Hollywood to Orlando. Wright says his franchise is the only one that’s doing them, though a Milwaukee location uses drag queens for deliveries. Friends often surprise other friends by ordering delivery without telling. Chicago does not offer delivery.
In March, Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered all the closure of all restaurant dining rooms. So that forced Wright to rethink the restaurant’s future. Carryout and delivery aren’t a big part of ownership’s business plan. Wright said they’ve adjusted the menu to be more friendly for takeaway.
Wright participates with a black beehive wig, colorful dress, glasses, and a new name: Apple Brown Betty Sugarbaker. It’s a way to inject some fun into a difficult situation. On Saturday, the restaurant crew rejoiced after making $1,000 for the night. Then they realized a normal night would bring $11,000.
“Small victories,” Wright says.
Despite the fun idea, with fewer people roaming Clark Street in the heart of Andersonville, Wright wondered how he could better grab customer’s attentions. On a particularly slow night, he posted a video to Facebook while dressed in drag. Wright said the video’s triggered comments from people across the country. Block Club Chicago also did a story.
Though the profits haven’t been huge, Wright has already seen positives. On Sunday night, a family of four ordered dinner to celebrate a girl’s birthday. Drag queens met the family outside and sang Happy Birthday to the child. It’s better than a Zoom party.
Drag Queen Drive Thru!! Order carry out and a drag queen will deliver your food to you (note: no burgers were harmed in the making of this video). #chicagotakeout #chicagodrag #donoharm #chicagoburgers ps: Apple Brown Betty is fired!Posted by Hamburger Mary's Chicago on Friday, March 27, 2020
Even before the outbreak, Wright said Hamburger Mary’s was likely to close this year along Clark Street; they’ve outgrown the space, Wright says. Wright, and twin brother Brandon, have placed the restaurant’s assets for sale. Their lease ends at the end of the year. Wright says he’s hopeful to reopen the restaurant in a new location. The retreat started last year when sold Andersonville Brewing, the brewery that took up the space just north of Hamburger Mary’s. The Wrights are no longer in the beer business, as Urban Renewal Brewing is taking over the brewery space.
Wright joked that third-party couriers sometimes are a little shocked walking through the doors to see a drag queen handing them orders. Third parties are a popular topic for restaurants during the crisis. Wright feels consumers can help restaurants by skipping DoorDash and Grubhub so he doesn’t have to pay companies’s commission fees.
“If you can order directly from your favorite restaurant by calling them direct, or by going there and picking up, I really encourage that,” Wright says.