Family-run restaurant with black bear twist

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A family affair at the Black Bear restaurant - back row: Mike Vinion and John Harrison. Becky Brumfield, Josh Brumfield, Josh Stewart and Holly Brumfield. Seated: Lily Stewart and Heather Brumfield. (Elka Wood/TWN)

Small town eateries provide a place to linger over a cup of coffee, a place to meet friends even when you didn’t know you were going to, a place to mourn, contemplate and celebrate.

Although Troy’s Black Bear Family Restaurant has had four owners since 2005, and been known as Odie’s Cafe and Big Sky Cafe over the years, new owner John Harrison is giving it a shot — to create a small town diner where everyone feels at home, with easy banter between staff and customers, and the warm smells of coffee and bacon wafting out of the kitchen.

Harrison has a secret weapon to win his goal of a successful small town restaurant — family.

He gestures around the dining area and back to the kitchen, where his niece, Heather Brumfield, is working the grill “The whole family works here, we wait tables, cook, clean up”.

Harrison arrived in Troy in Oct. 2014 to connect with biological sister Becky and when he decided to buy the premises, it was with the intent of providing work for the family. “It’s hard to find work here” he shrugs “I was sick of $8 an hour and part time. I’m only being paid a little more than that, but at least now I’m working for myself”.

The name of the restaurant comes from one of his first experiences in Lincoln county seeing a beautiful young black bear out of the window of his truck, close enough that he could take a clear, focused picture.

With that bear as his inspiration, entrepeneur Harrison has tried his hand at several businesses in Troy, seeing a need and working to fill it. Black Bear Entertainment, with business partner SvetLana Harper, provides catering and photography for weddings and celebrations.

But it’s the restaurant, open since Jan. 11 this year, which is taking up most of Harrison’s time and providing a base for his family to work and be together. Is the togetherness always harmonious? “No!” laughs niece Holly Brumfield “We have definitely stormed out on each other”.

Morning regular Debbie Rogers recommends the nachos ‘they are awesome”, and says her husband Gene comes for the homemade lasagnea, which often sells out.

The family hosted 78 diners for a special Valentine’s dinner with plans for more holiday meals, and further renovations to increase the size of the dining area coming soon. Harrison says they already have a steady stream of regulars who come for the burgers, all named for members of the family, or with a bear theme like the angry bear burger with jalepenos and pepperjeck. All sauces are made on site and tortilla chips are fried to order and served with homemade salsa.

A huge burrito is named for Harrison’s nephew Josh, who falls on the autistic spectrum. “It’s all he wants to eat” explains Harrison, greeting Josh with a warm hug. Family first, with food a close second, at the Black Bear family restaurant in Troy.

Elka Wood is a reporter at The Western News and can be reached by phone at 293-4124.

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