As Baltimore restaurants struggle to survive amid the financial pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic, chef Jasmine Norton has found a more affordable option to serve her customers: burgers.
Norton opened The Urban Oyster, Maryland’s first Black-female-owned-and-operated oyster bar in July of 2019, but closed it a year later. This fall, she is set to open her second restaurant, The Urban Burger Bar, in the newly developed Whitehall Mill Market in the Jones Falls Area neighborhood in North Baltimore.
“Initially, when I learned that I would have to close my restaurant at McHenry Row, I wasn’t happy. But it relieved us from a lot of overhead that we just couldn’t afford since the outbreak of COVID,” she said.
Norton said that by taking a step back to reset, she and her team are now prepared to offer a new socially distanced dining experience. She said she plans to open her burger bar in late October.
Kathleen Tozzi, the manager of Whitehall Mill Market, had known about Norton’s work and thought the relaxed oyster bar atmosphere would translate well to a burger bar and that ultimately it would be a great fit for the one dining space still available in the food market.
“We love her food, her energy and she has a great following here, in Baltimore,” Tozzi said. “And we didn’t have anything like the Burger Bar in the market –– so we thought that it would be a great addition.”
Whitehall Market is filled with stalls that offer goods such as coffee, tea, cheese and fine dining. And according to Tozzi, the market already had an oyster establishment, True Chesapeake Oyster Co., a fine dining restaurant.
Norton explained that despite her desire to shuck and serve shells, she was certain she could transition to a different type of cuisine.
“I would often host pop-ups at [her] Fort McHenry restaurant, and would have just regular burgers, salmon burgers, faux-talian (meatless Italian) sausage and turkey burgers –– and some weeks I would do better profit-wise with just the burgers,” Norton said.
Anthony Richmond, the Burger Bar’s manager, said customers will be able to enjoy burgers with locally sourced and alternative meats topped with fried egg and avocado, served along with milkshakes or cocktails.
Since Aug. 20, Norton has sold oysters for carryout out of the Hyatt Regency downtown on Light Street from Thursdays to Sundays. She and her team will be there until further notice.