One of the first stores I frequented when I landed in Encinitas 20 years ago was Queen Eileen’s in the heart of downtown, not far from The Saloon, my favorite watering hole. Between visits to the store and The Saloon, I became acquainted with Queen Eileen, or Eileen Burke as she is known by some. I always loved her unique style and our shared interests in a refreshing beverage, local restaurants both old and new, and establishments full of personality.
Since she lives near Stone Steps, one of my favorite local breaks, our paths have crossed there often, as well as with her brother Mike, who I’ve enjoyed mellow waist-high summer waves with on many occasions. Given that Queen Eileen’s is closed due to the lockdown, I wanted to remind folks that when they reopen, it’s stores like this that are going to need your full support. With that, I caught up with Queen Eileen recently and learned more about her fun story and some of the restaurants around town she can’t wait to get back to soon.
Lick the Plate: Tell me about your family and your roots in Encinitas.
Queen Eileen: My parents were teachers in Northern California and one summer when I was 7 we camped at the Cardiff campgrounds, and that was it; they fell in love with Encinitas and bought a house off Neptune. The rest is history. I went to San Dieguito High, took surf PE and lots of other classes that didn’t prepare me for the working world. Stone Steps was our hangout, the Distillery and Dicks at the beach was our weekend entertainment. Everybody hitchhiked everywhere. I sold vintage clothes on the weekends at Peddlers Village in Leucadia. Life was good and simple in Encinitas in those days.
LTP: What did you do prior to opening the store?
QE: I moved to Miami shortly after graduating from San Dieguito and worked in nightclubs in the “Miami Vice” days and also worked on a government research ship that went around the world. When the ship went into dry dock for repairs, all my friends from the clubs were doing strip-a-grams. I opened my own agency in Miami called Tease a Gram and it was the No. 1 agency in town.
LTP: How did Queen Eileen’s come to be?
QE: Queen Eileen’s has been on PCH for 30-plus years now. We started in an office above Roxy’s in 1989. One day while looking out the window of our office, I spotted a For Rent sign across the street where the 101 Diner seating area is. I called the landlord and took a space with no real plan, it just looked like a fun project. Our name at the beginning was Balloon A Gram but we quickly changed it to Queen Eileen’s.
LTP: How would you describe Queen Eileen’s?
QE: Oh my … where do I start? I have heard my store described in so many ways. Like a Hallmark on steroids, a kick in the pants kind of store. I always say if it’s under 20 bucks and makes you laugh, I sell it. We have everything from fart bombs to PJs to sterling silver from Bali and everything in between. One can find balloons and custom gift baskets and we even have a naughty room in the back. We are famous for our novelty gifts and people come from far and wide to shop with us. We have been having a blast with this store for decades and our product is always fun, snarky and forever changing. Do you want to know Encinitas’ best kept secret? Our warehouse behind the store is full of product for our wholesale business, Bali Queen, at unbelievable prices. You have to ask to go back there, definitely worth the trek across the alley.
LTP: Given the current state of lockdown, how can people support Queen Eileen’s?
QE: I am available to make and deliver gift baskets here in coastal North County. Our clothing brand is for sale online at www.cocorose.com. Really the best way to support us and all your other favorite independent stores and restaurants is to come see us and shop and eat when we all can open up. I have been selling masks, both tie dye and made of sarongs on my deck and on Neptune on the weekends. I am sending all the proceeds to our friends and suppliers in Bali and Thailand. It is a struggle for them to make ends meet with the current situation. Who would have known I would have been a hustle bunny philanthropist in a pandemic on my deck at home? I have been blessed to be able to make a difference and happy to do it.
LTP: Given our shared appreciation of a wide range of food and drink, what places are you hitting up once we can enjoy going out to eat and drink again?
QE: Oh my, so many. I want a beach bum at HapiFish, pizza at Buona Forchetta, crab legs on Saturday night at Keno’s, an adult beverage at The Saloon, a patty melt at Encinitas Cafe, the Greek omelet at 101 Diner, empanadas and goat cheese salad at Q’ero, the monk bowl at East Village, a BG burger and sweet potato fries at Bier Garden, fish tacos at Encinitas Fish Shop and a Kobe beef burger at Encinitas Ale House.
Find Queen Eileen’s at www.queeneileens.com or 548 S Coast Hwy 101 in Encinitas.