City District Main Street is excited to present our February Business of the Month award to Hamburger Mary’s in recognition of its long-standing dedication to the Downtown Orlando neighborhood, commitment to inclusivity, leadership and true entrepreneurial spirit among City District’s local business community.
Once known as “Bumby Hardware” many years ago, Hamburger Mary’s is now a local favorite for food, drinks, and lively entertainment. Paying tribute to the rich history of Church Street, “Bumby Block” can be seen in bold lettering above the restaurant’s storefront.
Learn more about Hamburger Mary’s and how it came to be the very special place we all know and love from the person who started it all, John Paonessa, Co-owner of Hamburger Mary’s.
Q: Tell us about your business, who is Hamburger Mary’s, and what do you do?
A: Hamburger Mary’s Bar and Grill has been in business for 15 years. We are an open-air bar and grill for open-minded people and specialize in food and entertainment in the heart of Downtown Orlando, where we love to be.
Q: What inspired you to open your business? Where did the idea come from?
A: Hamburger Mary’s started as a franchise in San Francisco in 1975. My partner Mike and I were exposed to the restaurant in 2001 while living in Ft. Lauderdale and fell in love with Mary’s. At the time, we owned an insurance agency, and we thought to ourselves – ‘let’s do something fun.’ We remembered Mary’s being a lot of fun. So we did our research, sold our insurance agency, and decided to open a Hamburger Mary’s location in Orlando.
Q: What is most unique about your business?
A: The aspect of entertainment is our most unique quality. Being a full-service bar and grill with the element of entertainment. We have shows 4-5 days a week, and we pack in big crowds of people looking to have a good time.
Q: At what point did you look at your business and consider it a success?
A: We opened in the middle of the 2008 recession. So the first two years were very rough. We had no measure to see if we were doing worse or better than we should be. By year four, Emily moved from Livingston to Church St, and a lot was being added to the downtown corridor. The transformation of the community helped bring the success of our business. By 2012, things took off.
Q: What has been your biggest learning experience running Hamburger Mary’s?
A: We were new to the restaurant industry. We learned patience, and we learned that there is a whole culture behind the hospitality industry. We met people from all walks of life, that helped shape our business to be much more well-rounded.
Q: How have you dealt with fear and doubt throughout the pandemic?
A: It really was a rough patch for all of us, we have been here for so long and were fortunate enough to have a very loyal clientele who rallied around us, which saved the business for sure. Also, the assistance that was offered through the government.
Q: What is the best advice you would give to a new business owner coming into Downtown Orlando?
A: You have to have a hook, something unique about your business. We have seen a lot of businesses come and go, be unique, learn from others.
Q: Why do you feel it’s important to give back to the community, and how do you give back?
A: Giving back is part of our workplace culture. Being part of the LBGTQ+ community we are involved with many fundraisers, and we host charity bingo nights for multiple organizations. We feel very fortunate to be in a place where we can give back and if you can give back you need to give back, it pays forward 100x over. Putting a spotlight on something really makes a difference and gives you an opportunity to create change for the better.
Q: What is the best part about being a business owner in downtown Orlando?
A: We are in the perfect location to experience so much of what Downtown has to offer that other commercial districts in Orlando don’t have – so many different types of people, customers, and events. Since 2008, downtown Orlando has grown exponentially. When we were looking for a location we were turned down by four different spaces in Thornton Park and College Park. We were fortunate that the property owner at the time would take our concept. He took a chance on us and said ‘let’s do it!’
Q: What do you think is the best part of being part of the downtown Orlando business community?
A: We all share the same dreams, goals, and challenges – business owners all communicate on these things and we find ways to work together- through event partnerships, sharing information, giving advice, and keeping in touch with each other. We want to see everyone flourish – We know how much heart and soul goes into opening a business.
Q: If you had to choose your absolute favorite thing about Hamburger Mary’s what would it be?
A: My team, our entertainers, our customers – I consider them all family. And what we have created here in downtown Orlando. We are also the most successful Hamburger Mary’s in a system of 17 franchises.
To learn more about Hamburger Mary’s, their history, events, menu, and entertainment schedule visit their website or follow @HamburgarMary on Instagram or @HamburgarMaryOrlando Facebook.