With a long lunchtime line for Island Burgers & Bites, the no-frills grill inside Island Kwik Mart in Carolina Beach, the orders are firing fast and furious. Burger with pimento cheese, fried egg, and grilled jalapeños. Cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz. Bacon double cheeseburger with chili, slaw, onions, and mustard.
Half a dozen cooks, elbow to elbow in the tiny kitchen, smash patties, grill buns, and dunk crinkle-cut fries into hot oil as fast as they can.
Every time a number is called, a happy customer hurries off to their vehicle, walks over to the nearby beach or boardwalk, or finds a spot on the raised deck with a view of Municipal Marina and a few fat seagulls hovering nearby. They sink their teeth into their burgers and, with a satisfied smile, wipe melted cheese off their chins.
Island Burgers & Bites is Carolina Beach’s popular build-your-own-burger spot, and its location inside a convenience store was the idea of brothers Kanwar and Ajay Singh.
The Singhs are Washington, D.C., natives who moved to Carolina Beach in 2004. They bought the Island Kwik Mart/Sunoco gas station on the busy corner of Lake Park Boulevard and Carl Winner Drive in 2012. Five years later, Ajay said that he wanted to add a small grill and serve food. The brothers had no restaurant experience, but they added a roughly 200-square-foot kitchen and gave it a try, opening mid-summer in 2017.
Word got around the island quickly about Ajay’s exceptional cheeseburgers, generously piled with peppery-sweet candied bacon. “As soon as we opened, we got a huge reaction from the locals,” Kanwar says, “and we just kept building on that.”
As positive online reviews rapidly grew, the wait for a burger stretched to 30 and 45 minutes, sometimes up to an hour during the busy summer season. The Singhs took out the gas pumps to make room for more restaurant parking.
Kanwar says that their success is all thanks to Ajay’s focus on quality ingredients and exact cooking specifications. The certified Angus beef and potato buns (made specially for them by a bakery) arrive fresh three times a week, and the hand-pattied burgers are dropped and smashed as they’re ordered.
Kanwar and Ajay Singh’s small convenience-store kitchen keeps things simple — but delicious. photograph by Matt Ray Photography
Beyond burgers, Island Burgers & Bites keeps things simple: all-beef hot dogs, steak and chicken cheesesteaks, chicken sandwiches. “A lot of the appeal is the fact that it’s in an old gas station, and it’s not your typical restaurant,” Kanwar says. “That gives us a unique factor that people enjoy.”
The simple grill has become a go-to spot for pretty much everybody, including Carolina Beach Mayor Lynn Barbee, who regularly meets constituents and coworkers on the deck over a bacon double cheeseburger. “This is the beach, and it’s not always convenient to go to a sit-down restaurant,” he says. “Here, you can buzz in and get high-quality food, eat it on the deck or in your car. It’s quick and it’s good.”
The Singh brothers are happy to be such a big part of the Carolina Beach culinary scene. “We are very grateful for what we have here,” Kanwar says. “We are just going to keep putting out good food.”
Island Burgers & Bites
111 Carl Winner Drive
Carolina Beach, NC 28428