Health and Wellness

Hamburger Mary’s owner says health department deliberately ruined his business because he’s gay

Kurt King
Photo: Screenshot/WFTS

The owner of a Hamburger Mary’s in Florida says that his business was targeted by country health officials because it’s an LGBTQ business.

Last November, the Hamburger Mary’s in Ybor City in Tampa, Florida, announced that it would be closing for good.

The Hillsborough County Health Department said that a worker there tested positive for hepatitis A and that there’s a local outbreak of the disease in central Florida.

The county offered free vaccines to people who ate there, and the bad press resulted in the restaurant closing a few weeks later.

The owner of the restaurant, Kurt King, said that that’s not the real reason the county targeted his business.

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King shared the hepatitis A test results with WFTS, the local ABC affiliate. The results show that the employee, whose name has not been released, did not have hepatitis A.

Douglas Holt, who heads the Hillsborough County Health Department, said that their tests showed that the employee had hepatitis A.

King said that there were four other area restaurants that were found to have an employee who tested positive for hepatitis A, but the names of those restaurants weren’t released by the county.

“Over 400 people in the state of Florida have Hepatitis A,” he said. “Where do they all work at? Why weren’t they put on the news? Why weren’t their restaurants and businesses destroyed like mine? That’s what I want to know.”

“I don’t think it’s fair,” he added. “I think they targeted us because we’re a gay restaurant, gay-owned, popular gay restaurant.”

Holt said that the restaurant was targeted because it’s gay but said that that’s not homophobia.

“If you’re going to fish, you need to go where the fish are,” Holt said. “Half of (hepatitis A patients) 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.”

He added that Hamburger Mary’s also had other issues, like a bad handwashing policy. The CDC states that hepatitis A in the U.S. is “extremely rare because standard sanitation practices of food handlers help prevent the spread of the virus.”

King said that the county has given the restaurant a bad name with their lack of transparency.

“It costs me everything I own,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay open at the other two locations, fighting for payroll, fighting to pay the food bills, fighting to pay everything. And it’s very difficult. And I feel the health department did me wrong. And I think the community needs to wake up because they did us all wrong.”

Hepatitis A in a virus that attacks the liver. It rarely results in death, with a fatality rate estimated at 0.015%.

The disease can be spread by restaurants. Some state health departments recommend that food service workers with the disease stay home for one to two weeks.

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