Fast Food

Hamburger Mary’s closes in Ypsilanti after less than a year

YPSILANTI, MI — Hamburger Mary’s Ypsilanti location is closing with plans to return as an entirely new business this December.

The chain restaurant was best known for bringing in a range of drag queen performances including drag queen bingo, drag queen karaoke and other events. The location opened in January and combined its operations with longtime Tower Inn at 701 W. Cross St.

Read more: Ypsilanti’s Tower Inn combining with Hamburger Mary’s in dual-concept restaurant

Originally the business was planning to close for a few weeks for renovations, but this closure soon became the end for the restaurant.

Owners Rois and Nathalie Savvides said keeping Hamburger Mary’s open was becoming too much financially for the retired couple. The costs of labor, entertainment and other expenses were draining them and their retirement fund.

Although the couple said closing the location is a hard decision, they want to enjoy retirement life.

Rois said that the couple is planning to just operate as the property’s landlords in the future. The two are not going to be reopening Tower Inn or co-owning the next business at the location.

“I am heartbroken that Hamburger Mary’s didn’t work, but no matter what we decide to do in the future I really want to continue with that model that it’s a safe place for everybody,” Nathalie said.

Rois said the couple began to struggle after co-owner Douglas Hanchett Jr. left the business in July. Since then, Rois and Nathalie have been operating the business with the help of its general management.

“We were left with a business that we don’t know anything about,” he said. “We know how to run a restaurant, but we don’t know how to do an entertainment business.”

Ashley Agoes has worked as a waitress and a bartender for Hamburger Mary’s since it opened. She said staff members received an email on Wednesday, Oct. 19, explaining Hamburger Mary’s was closing.

“None of us had a clue that we would not be reopening,” she said. “I mean there was some hinting that it might not be (Hamburger) Mary’s when we reopened (after renovations), but definitely no hinting that we were going to be completely closed.”

Agoes said Hamburger Mary’s closure is a “huge hit to the queer community” and also for its employees.

“They should have given us time,” she said. “If this isn’t what they wanted to do (then) that’s their choice … but showing a little … consideration for everybody (and) … giving us at (least) … 30 days seems reasonable.”

Rois said he couldn’t give more time because he was not originally planning on closing the business.

Rois plans to lease the space out to a new restaurant planning to open in December. He currently has two prospective businesses looking to take over the location, but nothing is finalized yet.

The Savvides said they are reaching out to Hamburger Mary’s to see if the next business can incorporate nights filled with drag queen events, but they do not anticipate that this will work out.

Agoes said she has around 25 years of experience in the restaurant industry so she isn’t worried about finding another job, but this can’t be said for other employees. Kelsie Awbrey, a waitress and a cook at Hamburger Mary’s, agrees.

“A lot of our employees are people that didn’t feel safe at other jobs, and they knew that they could be accepted by our community,” Awbrey said. “I know a lot of these people that are losing their jobs now are going to have an even harder time … because they need (a job where) they feel safe and respected.”

Awbrey has worked at the location since September 2021 when it was known as the Tower Inn. She said she was “blindsided” by the news, and that other employees are left feeling “upset” and “disrespected”.

“I’ll never find a job that had that same sense of community that I had (at Hamburger Mary’s) so I am also deeply feeling the loss of that,” she said.

Awbrey and Agoes wish the Ypsilanti community could have properly said goodbye to the establishment.

“I’m sure if (the community) had known that it was the last Hamburger Mary’s event then everyone would have shown up,” Awbrey said. “It could have been a good thing (and) we all could have had a great night where we all just celebrated and mourned the loss and had some kind of closure.”

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