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Hamburger Mary's closing two more Tampa Bay area locations amid Hep A test, I-Team investigation

Posted at 9:57 PM, Feb 26, 2019

Hamburger Mary's announced Tuesday it will be closing two more locations following a recent Hepatitis A test and an I-Team investigation.

The Tampa location closed its doors in November about two weeks after the Hillsborough County Health Department announced a Hamburger Mary's worker tested positive for Hepatitis A. A Dirty Dining investigation also discovered the restaurant had to be shut down due to live roaches and rodents in the kitchen.

Hamburger Mary's owner Kurt King was full of sadness and anger Tuesday, blaming the Hillsborough County Health Department for ruining his business.

"I'm just hoping they can find a job. You know, all the transgender people and all the gay people, I just hope they can find jobs," King said.

He says the Hillsborough County Health Department's Director, Dr. Douglas Holt, falsely announced that one of his workers in Ybor City tested positive for Hepatitis A and never exposed four other restaurants with infected workers.

King also believes that Dr. Holt targeted Hamburger Mary's because it's a restaurant that's gay-owned and employs many gay and transgender individuals from the LGBTQ Community.

Dr Holt denies targeting the restaurant but did tell ABC Action News anchor Wendy Ryan in an interview in December that Hepatitis A cases are more prominent among gay men.

"If you're going to fish, you need to go where the fish are," Holt said.

Holt also explained the three highest risk categories include the following: "Half of them report having drug use, the others would be a mixture of homelessness and particular sexual activities. The classic category is men having sex with men," Holt said.

King now admits that the bad publicity about Hepatitis A killed his business, forcing him to permanently close his Ybor City location a few months ago, and now shut down his two other restaurants in Brandon and St. Petersburg because of a 70% drop in revenue.

"The state of Florida has ripped my family apart. So many people have lost their houses, lost everything they have because of what Dr. Holt did to Hamburger Mary's and it's wrong," King said.

"Dr. Holt, what he did is wrong! And I cannot believe he still has his job, while all my people are losing theirs. I'm pissed. And I want justice. And we deserve justice."

And the community is not just losing a restaurant, King explains, but a place where countless charities come to raise money for their individual causes.

"We've raised over $2,000,000 for local charities for all the communities, not just one but for all," King explained.

The restaurant chain released the following statement via Facebook announcing the closures:

Hamburger Mary’s Brandon and St. Petersburg to Close for Good by March 31 Due to the Continuing Damage to Mary’s Good Name from the False Reports of the Health Department.

Kurt King regretfully announces that the Hamburger Mary’s locations in Brandon and St. Petersburg will close for good on March 31, 2019 or possibly sooner. Both locations have suffered sustained losses from the continuing effects of the slanderous assault on Mary’s good name and that of her employees from the Hillsborough office of the State Health Department, which forced their sister locations in Ybor City to close in November.

Mary has kept the Brandon and St. Petersburg restaurants open in hopes that, as the truth of the Health Department’s false accusations about the Ybor restaurants became known, business would return to its former levels. Mary appreciated the outrage expressed by several of the candidates for Mayor of Tampa and the Hillsborough County Board over the Health Department’s false and discriminatory actions against Mary’s Ybor locations. Unfortunately, business in both Brandon and St. Petersburg has remained suppressed to the point where it is no longer possible to keep the doors open. For example, charitable groups that used to line up to book their events months in advance are cancelling those events, even now, citing the widespread reporting in the media and social media of the Health Department’s false accusations. We have been hoping that the community that Mary has supported for years would stand by Mary in her time of need, and many have, but not enough to overcome the damage caused by Dr. Holt’s prejudice.

Hamburger Mary’s has always been an open-air bar and grill for open-minded people where everyone is welcome, and diversity is celebrated. Since Mary opened her first restaurant in Tampa Bay in 2009, the Ybor, Brandon and St. Petersburg locations have supported the community by helping charities raise over two million dollars through Mary’s bingos and other charitable events. The Health Department under Dr. Holt apparently does not share Mary’s love of diversity as shown by Dr. Holt’s subsequent statements that the Health Department singled out Hamburger Mary’s because “if you want to catch fish go where the fish are” and “those people” spread hepatitis. Thus, he reinforced and perpetuated the damage by appealing to prejudices against the LGBTQ community. Several other restaurants in Central Florida had employees that tested positive for Hepatitis A, but the Health Department did not name those restaurants. Instead, it singled out Hamburger Mary’s for public excoriation based on a false report and the perceived sexual orientation of its employees and customers. No employee of Hamburger Mary’s tested positive for Hepatitis A.

The Brandon and St. Petersburg locations of Hamburger Mary’s will try to stay open until March 31, 2019 to give Mary’s dedicated staff time to earn some more money and find new jobs. Please show your support for these hardworking men and women by visiting Mary’s in either Brandon or St. Petersburg during March.

Hamburger Mary's owner claims health department targeted his restaurant for being gay

The Brandon and St. Pete locations will try to stay open until the end of March to give the staff time to find new jobs.

See the full Facebook post here.