The opening of Pearls Hamburgers may be in jeopardy

By Kyle Stucker, February 3, 2012

[The following article is courtesy of]

A proposal for a new downtown restaurant hit a small roadblock recently when incomplete plans and concerns about its impact on the surrounding area forced its owners to withdraw their application to the Hampton Zoning Board.

Heide Conlin and Jen Blankenship withdrew their variance application for Pearls Hamburgers, a gourmet sandwich shop the local duo hope to open in a souped-up silver Airstream trailer permanently installed at the corner of Lafayette Road and Swain Court, in order to regroup in the hopes of winning over the board with a presentation that better captures the nuances and character of the community-focused idea.

Conlin said she felt presentation itself was the biggest reason for most of the board’s objections and reservations to grant the variance, which is required because the converted Airstream doesn’t technically count as a building allowed as a restaurant by town code.

She said she felt members missed the main concept behind the quaint, laidback eatery, from which she and Blankenship plan to serve upscale burgers, vegetarian options, crabcakes, and kids’ meals stuffed in cardboard muscle cars to patrons looking to dine at a picnic table in front of the Airstream, on fancy red-and-white checkered blankets on a section of turf behind the restaurant, or while they walk through downtown.

“I totally understand where they’re coming from,” said Conlin. “I didn’t present it in a way that I should’ve, with good pictures and detailed site plans. It’s not going to be a trashy little lot with a trailer that leaves a lot to be desired. We were disappointed because Jen and I were not getting out the message we wanted to get out.”

The business partners have contracted a Manchester-based graphic designer to develop nicer plans, and the strategy at this point is to soon get the formal sitework to board members, whom Conlin said she doesn’t blame after the way the presentation went on Jan. 19.

“It’s kind of frustrating,” said Conlin. “They said in the meeting that they didn’t want this kind of business in Hampton. I felt like they were really kind of discriminating without seeing what could’ve been done.”

The variance application was unanimously withdrawn without prejudice after several board members expressed concerns about voting on the petition because of the lack of complete information.

Vic Lessard said that the location, a vacant lot in the heart of Hampton’s downtown, is “too valuable for this type of business” and Ed St. Pierre said he felt a regular building “would be better.”

Conlin hopes to show the board, and the community, that the converted Airstream is intended to be like a miniature diner and would be at the heart of extensive sitework, skirting, landscaping and other accouterment that Conlin feels will be a “significant” upgrade over a lot that currently sports a boarded-up building and cracked concrete.

Conlin also said she and Blankenship are willing to work with the board and town to find a way to bring the Pearls Hamburgers vision — a lifelong dream for the women — to fruition in a way that pleases both sides.

“My intention is to work with everyone in town,” said Conlin. “We’re not looking for a fight.”

The plan may face a fight of some kind from abutters and some residents, as some individuals at the Jan. 19 meeting expressed concern about possible added traffic on an already-busy street. Although, there have been dozens of comments in support of the business from locals on the Pearls Hamburgers Facebook page and in the comments section of the first Hampton-North Hampton Patch article about the proposal.

Building Inspector Kevin Schultz told Patch he will present the formal designs to the zoning board once they are finished, and he said it’s still possible they could get an appointment before the board in the near future.

“They realized a picture’s worth a thousand words,” said Schultz, who said he has no personal feelings for or against the proposed business. “At least they secured the fact that they can come back by withdrawing. I don’t know if it was denied [on Jan. 19] if that would be the case, but that would be it.”

Conlin said the plan still is to open Pearls some time in May or early June. She said she won’t let the initial defeat deflate her enthusiasm for Pearls, and she plans to soon start gathering e-mails from residents and comments on Facebook so she and Blankenship can submit to the zoning board strong letters of support along with their professional site plans.

“We just have to keep going and persevering until the doors start opening instead of closing,” said Conlin, who added Exeter has expressed interest in the business, although she’d rather open in Hampton, where she now lives. “It’s a dream, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get there. I’m just hoping others feel my dream, too.”