New Restaurant Aiming to Become 'Pearl' of the Seacoast

Two women are hoping a strong community focus and culturally-rich idea will help make their stand a popular reality

By Kyle Stucker, October 14, 2011

[The following article is courtesy of]

Even though their idea may be based around a "silver bullet" quickly dishing out tasty burgers, Jen Blankenship and Heide Conlin want to make Pearls Hamburgers far more than just "fast food."

Blankenship, 39, of Hampton, and Conlin, 47, of Exeter, are close to bringing their long-awaited dream to life: opening a permanent hamburger stand in a refurbished vintage Airstream trailer.

The duo hopes to be topping beef patties with cheese, smoked bacon, chili and a variety of other toppings in Hampton by spring 2012, although Blankenship said what they're really looking forward to most is cooking the little side dish of community that goes with their creations.

"We're hoping to at least market to the people who want that fast food fix but don’t want the junk — the ones who want the good stuff," said Blankenship. "It’s personal — it's not McDonald's.

"We want it to be a way to bring the community together. We’re all people at the end of the day. We have to support each other. It's not just about making a profit, but rather about trying to create a face for the business that's friendly. It’s more nuanced and layered. It’s what we really want try get across to our community."

Blankenship, an Atlanta transplant, and Conlin, a native Granite Stater, have been developing their idea for a swanky, "diner-style" food stand, complete with outdoor picnic tables, for the past couple of years.

The inspiration for budget-concious, burger-hawking Airstream came from the friends' experiences in the food industry as well as in cities like Philadelphia, Penn., where food stands and mobile restaurants have changed the way people view lunch.

Blankenship admitted Philadelphia's streets are structured much differently than downtown Hampton, although she said she thinks the enthusiasm behind the food stand culture and the concept of walking to lunch are applicable while style focusing on the qualities Hampton residents crave in their restaurants.

"We're hoping to bring back the local flavor of what the Seacoast town is," she said, adding that Pearls Hamburgers is named in honor of Conlin's mother, a longtime fixture at the Kingston 1686 House.

"Our goal is to make it an attraction. We're hoping to bring the center of the town back to the center and create an in-between point where people not just driving through, but actually coming and walking here."

The enterprise is currently in its fundraising stage, as Blankenship said roughly $13,000 alone is needed to purchase a vintage Airstream and contract an individual to overhaul the vehicle and equip it with a variety of code-approved appliances and facilities.

The friends have started a fundraising campaign for that money through, a public website that Blankenship said will help keep the business "accountable" and allow donors to get a return on their investment through Pearls rewards and merchandise.

Blankenship said it'll also likely take another $7,000 in capital to get the business of the ground, which she said she's confident will happen despite the fact that banks are hesistant to give loans for restaurants of Pearls' nature, which has forced them to look toward donations.

There are are non-monetary risks involved, too — including the chance that Pearls won't be able to secure the lot near the intersection of Swain Court and Lafayette Road which it's hoping to rent — although Blankenship said Pearls' strong community focus will help the dream come to fruition.

Among the community-oriented ideas incorporated into Pearls is "Sunday Service," in which Blankenship and Conlin will take their "nimble" stand door-to-door each Sunday to homebound residents looking for a home-cooked meal and a friendly ear.

Conlin said the inspiration for this idea, for which customers will have to register, came from delivering burgers once or twice a week to her own grandmother, which Blankenship said Conlin's grandmother loved.

"It was like a little gift that always came with Heide," said Blankenship. "There are so many out there who can't get out. As a business, I really want to take the opportunity to reach out to that part of the community who can't reach out to us and let them know we care."

Blankenship said she feels those kinds of efforts will truly weave Pearls into the community and make it a "destination spot," although when it comes down to it, there's also a much simpler goal for the business.

"We want them to come to us because they like our food," she said.

More information about Pearls, which is aiming to be open April through November next year, can be found on the business' website or by calling 601-0411.

Blankenship said the Kickstarter campaign, which has raised over $1,500 since Oct. 1, goes through Nov. 19. She said no money will be collected from donors if the business doesn't hit $13,000 by the end of the campaign.