Heidi Hagemeier

MADRAS - How big are portions at the Black Bear Diner?

They're so big, says restaurant chain founder Bob Manley, that they evoke childhood memories of proportions, like the one about the sundae that seemed like a mountain of ice cream and hot fudge.

They're so big, many people leave with a full stomach and a to-go box.

They're so big, they could feed ... well, a bear.

”Our most frequent comment is, 'This is the small? I'd like to see what the large looks like,' ” said Joe Davis, owner and manager of Madras' Black Bear Diner.

But Black Bear Diner owners say they go for quality as well as quantity. Each restaurant in the chain of 15 bakes its own pies, breads and cobblers. The emphasis is on homemade, with each plate made to order.

Davis said the restaurant's commitment to quality, quantity and moderate prices has drawn a loyal following in Madras since it opened three years ago. Now, a Black Bear Diner is poised to open in Bend on Monday, June 16.

Manley said he and his business partner, Bruce Dean, opened the first Black Bear Diner in Mount Shasta, Calif., in 1994.

Since then, the chain has grown. But aside from a restaurant in Las Vegas, the diners have made their inroads in small towns like Madras.

”It's just a natural fit in rural communities,” Manley said.

The interiors of Black Bear Diners are generally similar. Wooden bears greet customers at the entrance. The layout and details hark back to 1950s-style diners, down to shakes in metal cans and a jukebox that plays continuous oldies. Each restaurant also offers bear merchandise for sale.

Owners of each restaurant, however, bring their community's character to the establishment. Pictures of local sports teams and a Madras motorbike racer grace the walls in Madras, as do photos of Davis' children barrel racing.

In addition, all of Davis' children have worked at the restaurant.

Davis first spent time in Madras in 1978, when he helped open Jerry's Coffeeshop.

He later remodeled the same building into the Black Bear Diner.

”Our customers like to see that hometown touch,” he said.

The diner's food comes with no frills. It's standard American fare, from Denver omelets to bacon cheeseburgers to chicken fried steaks.

”We're nothing fancy,” Davis said. ”We're just a great place to eat.”

Since the news broke that a Black Bear Diner would soon open in Bend, Davis said at least a dozen residents have driven to Madras to try out the fare.

Bend franchisees Terry and Denise Farnham said they are excited to open a restaurant here with middle-of-the-road prices.

The Farnhams also own 13 Schlotzsky's Delis in Oregon and Washington.

It costs more than fast food, but a sandwich with a choice of side generally goes for $7.49. A dinner entree with soup or salad, bread and two sides is about $10.99.

”What we're trying to do is to provide an affordable family place,” Denise Farnham said.

The Bend restaurant will also sport its own flair. Twenty-three bears carved by Redmond artist Vance Fortenberry will decorate the interior and exterior of the restaurant, which will seat about 170 people.

A professionally trained chef will guide the Bend kitchen, making extensive use of a rotisserie oven special to the restaurant, Farnham said.

In addition, the Bend restaurant will have a room with televisions that local sports teams can use to review game tapes.

”It's just going to be a really fun place to go,” Farnham said.

And - especially for those with bear-like appetites - to eat.

Dish Details:

LOCATION: 234 SW Fourth St., Madras

1465 NE Third St., Bend

HOURS: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily

PRICE RANGE: $4.99 - $14.99


RESERVATIONS: Recommended for banquet room

CONTACT: 475-6632, Madras; 312-8327, Bend

Heidi Hagemeier can be reached at 541-383-0353 or hhagemeier@bendbulletin.com .