Major Mahoney likes to go where people don’t expect.
He says there was little else in the area when he and his sister, Tyisha Baskerville, opened their now wildly popular Gourmet Burger Bistro on its little mini-mall stretch of High Street in Portsmouth’s Churchland neighborhood.
“Nobody would have said back then this is a nice area,” Mahoney says.
But three years later, the parking lot is full of cars, a few more businesses have opened nearby, and the Bistro is wall-to-wall at weekday lunch hours and weekend brunch.
This June, he’s hoping he and his family can transport that same magic to a second location in Norfolk.
He’ll be bringing the Burger Bistro’s fried chicken wings and impossibly stacked Empire burgers to another location many would consider a challenge: Military Circle Mall.
Representatives from the mall approached him this year about the idea. At the time, he was considering opening his second location in downtown Norfolk. He was skeptical of the mall at first.
“I thought, ‘Man, that mall is dead,'” he remembers.
He had fond memories of hanging out there when the mall was what he calls “the Norfolk stomping grounds,” but hadn’t been there since the Macy’s department store closed in 2016.
“Then I went down to see for myself, and I said, I see opportunity here… I looked up and saw that big glass sunroof and I thought, ‘This is life.’ We’re gonna bring some life back in here.”
Mahoney hopes his restaurant can be part of a renaissance in how people see Military Circle, the same way he says the Burger Bistro’s success helped other entrepreneurs see possibility in an overlooked stretch of Churchland.
Part of it, he says, is re-creating the same hospitality and family feeling that brings regulars back to the restaurant in Portsmouth, where Mahoney greets every customer that comes in with a warm hello and maybe a fist bump.
“We got Amazon, we got Walmart, we got people that deliver food now,” he says, describing the market forces that have moved commerce from shopping malls to online ordering forms.
“But you can’t sell hospitality online. You can’t turn good food into a vending machine. You can’t do it. I don’t care how you try to cut that. You still need a human being to serve another human being.”
Even inside Military Circle, he hopes to replicate the family feeling of his Portsmouth restaurant, where they sell Gourmet Burger Bistro-branded T-shirts and use the proceeds to offer free meals to neighborhood kids in the summertime.
He’ll hire servers to bring food out to customers, and brand the restaurant’s seating area with wraps over the tables. He also hopes to bring his restaurant’s trademark green umbrellas out for brunch service, when the restaurant serves its rich french toast, made-to-order waffle squares and decadently cheesy grits.
At his grand opening planned for June, Mahoney plans to bring his burger truck out to the parking lot, cut a green ribbon in an opening ceremony, and then hand out 500 free burgers to the first customers.
Many of his customers already drive from Norfolk to Portsmouth, he says, and so he wants to bring his restaurant close to where they live. But he also chose Military Circle because its location at 880 N. Military Highway is at a busy nexus of Hampton Roads.
“We got a strong base out there (in Norfolk), and we got a strong base in Hampton. But we chose Norfolk because one thing about that city, everybody some way, somehow ends up going to that city.”
He hopes the new Burger Bistro can re-create the sense of community his family has built in Portsmouth.
“This is like the meeting ground that everybody comes to, you know?” Mahoney says of the Portsmouth location. “The police department comes here. We got the firefighters. We got the people in the mayor’s office. You know, even the health department comes in here to eat. You know how rare that is?”
Matthew Korfhage, 757-446-2318, firstname.lastname@example.org
Original Story HERE