Sean Umstead and Michelle Vanderwalker are at it again. The owners of Kingfisher cocktail bar and the QueenBurger pop-up announced on Tuesday that they plan to open Queeny’s this summer.
The intrepid duo partner with marketing and event savant King Kenney to bring this new concept to the downtown scene. The restaurant and bar is set above Kingfisher’s basement locale and will serve lunch and dinner menus consisting of classic “bar and grill” dishes priced between $9-$14. Expect hot and cold sandwiches, fried pickles and an eclectic spin on Snappy Lunch’s – the only Mount Airy business ever mentioned during the eight-year run of “The Andy Griffith Show” – famous pork chop sandwich.
The Queeny’s team also plans to integrate a drip coffee bar, a curated bookstore and a zero-fee, soundproof podcast studio, among other unique offerings.
“We are trying to make a space that people can use in a lot of ways,” Sean says. “We leave a lot of things intentionally open-ended so that we can evolve into what the community uses it for and sees it as. The base of it is fun. You’ll be surprised and happy with what you find.”
“Fun” has been the core concept for the owners since opening their underground bar Kingfisher in July 2019. When Kingfisher temporarily closed for nearly 11 months, Sean and Michelle reinvisioned the potential of their space, turning the parking lot at the back of the bar into an artificial turfed-out burger oasis, QueenBurger, which supported them through this turbulent year. It’s no surprise that the two still have some ideas up their sleeves, including bringing King on board. He plans to cook up some inventive events later down the line. You might remember the Local Jazz series that launched back in August 2019 at The Fruit. King curated the whole shebang, pulling acclaimed local talent like the Ernest Turner Trio and Brian Horton Quartet. Expect more exciting happenings from King at Queeny’s.
Sean and Michelle are inherently optimistic as they double down on the idea that people are ready to get out and experience a space together soon. As the number of North Carolina vaccinations increase, they want to provide opportunities for Durhamites to contribute to Queeny’s. Plans include several community events where locals can contribute to several upcoming projects, including the pollinator gardens for the space’s massive windows. Folks can put their own stamp on the green-inspired elements by helping handpick planters and plants.
Michelle, inspired by art projects with her two kids, also came up with the idea of an event where people come shoot paint-covered rubber bands at ceramic plates to be used at Queeny’s. Sean is particularly excited about a wall of photos and “senior quotes” from said contributors. It’s “basically [going to be] like a yearbook,” he says. More information on all of this to follow on Queeny’s website.
With three to four months until the grand opening, Michelle – the ceramics artist that she is – already began churning out design aspects, handcrafting hundreds of dishes. Keep a look out for her limited-edition Queeny’s mugs on Instagram; each one counts toward an admission to the pre-opening dinner.
Now, the final burning question: What happens to QueenBurger?
“I think that QueenBurger will dovetail with Queeny’s,” Sean says. “I expect we will operate QueenBurger in the backyard up until Queeny’s opens. The future for QueenBurger is a little more up in the air. We’ll see what happens with it. In terms of being a backyard burger space, people will probably need to get their fix for that concept this summer.”
Queeny’s, located above Kingfisher at 318 E. Chapel Hill St., is currently under construction. Sean says the team is aiming for a July/August opening. Follow @QueenysDurham for updates and special releases.