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Diner quenches bear-size appetites

Black Bear Diner delivers hearty comfort food in rustic environment


Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN - Diners enjoy a hot cup of coffee as they order breakfast at the recently opened Black Bear Diner in Gresham.

Bored senseless with holiday leftovers and desperate for someone else to do the cooking?

Check out the new “diner” in Gresham, where customers are served with old-school hospitality and heapin’ helpins’ of good old-fashioned comfort food.

“We pride ourselves on our great customer service and quality home cooking,” said Danny Banwait, owner of the recently opened Black Bear Diner on Burnside Road. “We want to have a relationship with our customers and to know their names. We are all about family dining at a reasonable price. “

Black Bear Diner is unique among eateries in these parts with its rustic mountain decor and focus on classic dishes. Counter seating (yes, a real counter) features log cabin-style stools; walls are graced with bear-themed murals; and a juke box in the lobby cranks out tunes with universal appeal. The bakery case is loaded with homemade desserts, and you can’t miss the pervasive aroma that brings back memories of grandma’s kitchen.

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN - Diners at the Black Bear Diner are greeted with an interior having the look and feel of a cozy and warm rustic cabin. From its outdoorsy appearance to its baseball-size homemade biscuits, Black Bear is a throwback to the time when the corner diner served a bottomless cup of coffee and food fit for a lumberjack.

In 1995, business partners Bob and Laurie Manley and Bruce Dean opened their first diner, at the base of Mount Shasta in the Strawberry Valley region of Northern California. The berry meadow had long been an attraction for human berry gatherers and black bears alike and once home to an iconic rest stop for travelers.

As the story goes, a gold prospector named Sisson built an inn overlooking the wild berry patches in 1861. Sisson was a local legend for his hospitality and good food, which came to be the founding principle for the Manleys’ and Dean’s Black Bear Diner concept.

Now a franchise operation, the company operates 66 diners in Arizona, California, Washington and Nevada. Despite a questionable economic climate for service industry businesses in recent years, Black Bear has experienced steady growth, opening 26 new restaurants over the past three years. The Gresham restaurant is the eighth location in Oregon and according to Banwait, customers have been anxious to get their paws on the menu. Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN - Frances Herring, left, general manager of Black Bear Diner, and Danny Banwait, owner of the new Gresham Black Bear Diner.

“People are really excited we’re here,” he said. “They were asking for a place like this, and corporate was really excited when this site became available. It’s been good.”

Black Bear serves breakfast, lunch and dinner all day, every day, which means you can satisfy your craving for pot roast at 10 a.m. if the mood strikes. Prep cooks work in shifts throughout the day continually preparing the diner’s signature gravy and in-house cooked meats, along with three bakers who crank out gigantic homemade fruit-filled Bear Claws, cobblers and bread pudding.

“We roast our turkey here, the sausage is made here. The majority of our menu is fresh and prepared here,” said Frances Herring, general manager. “A lot of these are family recipes — home-style comfort foods. We’re actually known for our pot roast and biscuits and gravy.”

Since the diner opened in early December, passersby haven’t taken note of the new signage on the building as much as the cluster of bear carvings outside.

Sculptor Ray Schulz has been wielding a chainsaw to create the critters for the company since 1999. Bears are carved from cedar logs purchased from loggers near Schulz’s home in Spokane, Wash. Each grouping is designed to reflect the recreational interests among customers at a diner’s particular location.

“The bears pertain to what’s going on locally,” Banwait said. “(In Gresham) we’ve got an outdoor theme — hunting, camping and fishing. The decor and the bears are unique to each diner.”

Even the restaurant’s take-out menu reflects the community it serves. “The Black Bear Gazette” resembles a newspaper and uses snippets of stories and advertising from a particular year in the hometown publication — in this case, The Outlook.

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN - Big food portions are no stranger to customers at Black Bear Diner. Black Bear harks back to the days of the small-town corner diner, where coffee cups are bottomless and the food is satisfying for a bear-size appetite.

“This isn’t like a cookie cutter diner. People don’t come here and feel like it’s a franchise,” Banwait said. “The owners were just two normal guys who started diners, but it’s up to us to make the dining experience memorable for our customers.”

If you go

WHO: Black Bear Diner

105 N.E. Burnside Road

Gresham

WHAT: Old-fashioned comfort food (think pot roast and chicken fried steak), served in an outdoor-themed family-friendly environment; breakfast, lunch and dinner served all day, every day. Take-out service available.

Call: 503-489-5476.

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