The stars will come out in Coney Island — for burgers.
Wahlburgers, the burger chain and reality-show setting started by actor Mark Wahlberg with his brothers, former boy-bander Donnie and Paul, a chef, is opening a franchise in Coney Island this spring — and the owner promises a star-studded grand opening.
“It’s going to be a red carpet opening,” said franchisee John Cestare, who owns Big Apple Burger. “We’re going have a huge celebrity opening with the Wahlberg brothers — there are going to be a lot of stars.”
The Wahlbergs started the chain in Boston in 2011, and recently announced plans to open 27 franchise locations in New York and Florida. Cestare will open seven locations in the city — starting with Coney Island.
Most of the shops will be in Manhattan, but Cestare said he wanted to open the Boardwalk-adjacent location first.
“Coney Island is iconic,” he said, “and I want to be in iconic locations.”
The franchise is leasing the Stillwell Avenue storefront from Thor Equities, and the restaurant will be a little larger than a basketball court — including rooftop seating that overlooks the amusement district. It will employ about 60 people.
Bringing another name-brand franchise to the area will be a boost to economic development in Coney Island, Cestare said, which was another reason he wanted to open in the People’s Playground.
“I wanted to be a part of the rebuilding,” he said.
Whalburgers will be the latest in a slew of burger chains opening in Coney Island. An Applebees started slinging sandwiches in fall 2013, and a Checkers and a Johnny Rockets are slated to open on Surf Avenue soon, as well. But Cestare is confident that there’s plenty of room for everybody.
“We love competition — we think there’s enough business to go around,” Cestare said. “We want people to come down to Coney Island and enjoy — whether you go to Applebees, Nathan’s, or Wahlburgers.”
The burger mogul said he is not at all concerned that the recent controversy about racially motivated assaults committed by Mark Wahlberg in his youth will hurt the restaurant’s prospects. Cestare believes the movie star has redeemed himself through his philanthropy — and besides, he said, the burgers taste great.
“Mark Wahlberg is a great person who does charity work,” Cestare said. “I not only believe in the brothers, but I believe in the product.”