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SHE REIGNS SUPREME

Meet Eileen Burke, head honcho of Queen Eileen’s and a whole lot more

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANGELA STERLING

In the heart of historic downtown Encinitas, there is a shop bursting with the kind of merchandise that strikes a happy chord in everyone who walks through the door. Queen Eileen’s is a treasure trove of unique and alluring gift items that make customers think of family members, work colleagues, and friends. It’s as though a piece of Santa’s workshop broke off from the North Pole and drifted all the way to North County.

But Santa is not in charge here. Instead, everyone reports to Eileen Burke, the store’s ingenious founder, owner, and operator. Not into traditional titles (she refers to herself as head honcho), Eileen has successfully built a business that includes five retail stores and a wholesale component.

Eileen Burke
Eileen Burke

Not many people know this, but the first chapter of Eileen Burke’s enviable empire began about 40 years back, across the street from Queen Eileen’s in a tiny office on the second floor. It was from there that Eileen and her husband ran a business offering singing telegrams (often delivered by strippers), custom party balloons, and gift baskets. “In 1989, a ‘For Rent’ sign went up in a retail space across from us, and I said, ‘let’s move there,’ without having a clue about what we would do with the space,” Eileen recalls. 

The answer gradually revealed itself as Eileen returned from gift shows with more and more merchandise. “We kept having to move the wall back farther in the store for retail space and became increasingly efficient with our telegram and gift basket business in the back room, so it required less space.”

In 2007, Eileen discovered Bali. She first visited on vacation and instantly fell in love with all aspects of the culture. “I started bringing things back to the United States without thinking about the fact that we were in a recession,” she says. Suddenly, the company’s gift basket sales plummeted, and they had to pivot quickly to stay in business.

Queen Eileen’s custom gift baskets, colorful apparel, and hostessware
Queen Eileen’s custom gift baskets, colorful apparel, and hostessware
CoCo Rose’s garments and bracelets from Bali
CoCo Rose’s garments and bracelets from Bali

“We started doing more importing and making fewer baskets,” Eileen says, “Now we have a 3,000-square-foot warehouse out back—full of merchandise to support everything we do.” Everything includes her booming corporate gift basket and wholesale enterprises, and there is more. Queen Eileen is also the owner of CoCo Rose, located in Carlsbad, Del Mar, downtown San Diego, and Palm Desert, with two more locations opening in the Palm Desert area soon. CoCo Rose is a string of retail stores dedicated to beautiful apparel, jewelry, and other items produced in Bali.

There’s no doubt that Queen Eileen has built herself an impressive kingdom. When asked for her secret to success, she pauses to think for a moment. “I really love what I do,” she smiles. “The secret is to dream big, plan well, work hard, smile always, and believe that good things will happen.”