CAROLINA BEACH — In an unassuming corner store at the intersection of Lake Park Boulevard and Carl Winner Drive on Pleasure Island, it’s not unusual to see a packed parking lot with people congregating for lunch.
They begin lining up daily at 11 a.m. at Island Burgers and Bites, a fast, casual carryout spot — yes, located in a gas station. Its popularity has grown in quite a short time span, so much so, this week it gained recognition by Yelp.
The national brand, which crowdsources reviews for companies nationwide, released Tuesday its top spot to get a burger in every state. Island Burgers and Bites took the crown in the Tar Heel State.
Located in a blue-and-white Sunoco gas station, the eatery is owned and operated by brothers Kanwar and AJ Singh of Wilmington. The two opened the convenience store in 2012, but it was only four years ago they decided to optimize its output beyond mere snacks and sodas.
Today, a 200-square-foot kitchen has been added to its footprint, run by eight employees. Only a handful of items are on the menu: hot dogs, Philly cheesesteaks, burgers, crinkle-cut fries and onion rings among them.
Single, double and triple patties, smashed between two buns, are topped myriad ways: slaw, chili, mustard; grilled onions, mushrooms and cheese; candied bacon, fried egg and cheddar.
“We have over 20 toppings,” AJ Singh told Port City Daily Thursday.
From its 142 reviews on Yelp, Island Burgers and Bites scores high among four- and five-stars. And it’s not just from locals; people nationwide who visit the beach town for vacation are singing its praises.
“Best burgers! Don’t skip the candied bacon,” Michele T. from Wildomar, California, posted Aug. 20. “Owners and staff are great! An absolute MUST!”
Yelp’s methodology to determine the top burger from every state included identifying businesses listed in its food and restaurant categories and aggregating top volume reviews with the keyword “cheeseburger.” It then ranked all eateries still marked “open” and with a passing health score in the U.S., from Jan. 1 through July 15, 2022.
Singh said word-of-mouth has been the bread-and-butter of Island Burgers and Bites. Specifically, on Google the store has over 600 reviews, averaging a score of 4.8 out of 5.
“We’re really grateful,” he said, noting they haven’t paid for much advertising since launching the kitchen in 2018. “We had a lot of traffic coming into the store naturally just from people going to the northend.”
Island Burgers and Bites has a prime location — one of the only stores to make a pitstop at on Carl Winner Boulevard when turning onto the road to get to Freeman Park. It’s also among the first gas stations seen after crossing Snow’s Cut to get onto the island.
While attracting people through the door hasn’t been problematic, having them constantly return has been most rewarding. Singh attributes it to keeping all ingredients fresh, from the jalapeños, onions, tomatoes and lettuce, to the housemade slaw, chili and pimento cheese.
“We hand-patty the burgers every morning, nothing is frozen,” he added. “We use top-quality, certified Angus beef and we prepare the candied bacon every morning.”
The burgers come on potato rolls, ordered out of Chicago. The bread company was going to discontinue the buns, but Singh said once Island’s food distributors pointed out how many orders the Carolina Beach business was going through weekly, the company changed course.
“We are getting a truck of food every other day right now,” Singh said. “We’re in such a small place that we don’t have any walk-in cooler space.”
Yet, limited storage works in the company’s favor; it consistently ensures freshness.
Island Burgers and Bites doesn’t offer dine-in seating. By design, its food is made quick, to grab-and-go just like the convenience store items it sells.
“Don’t let them fool you, being in a gas station. The food was awesome and the staff friendly,” Tammy P. from Gastonia, NC, wrote on Yelp July 31.
Singh said there are no plans to expand the menu or even move the restaurant into a standalone larger space.
“We’re gonna keep it simple,” he said.
Island Burgers and Bites is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, until 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and until 4 p.m. Sunday.
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