Since the original diner opened in Mount Shasta in 1995, the franchise has grown to 61 restaurants in the western states with more than 4,000 employees. In the next few years, Black Bear is expected to become a national chain.
The business recipe for Black Bear Diner co-founders Bob Manley and Bruce Dean grew from small town values. They wanted it to include waiters and waitresses who look you in the eye when they take your order. Milkshakes served alongside the extra bit straight from the tin. Framed photos of local high school sports heroes decorating the walls. Good music pumping from the jukebox. A sense of community, of fitting in. And, wow, did that ever find a receptive audience. Since the original diner opened in Mount Shasta in 1995, the franchise has grown to 61 restaurants in the western states with more than 4,000 employees. In the next few years, Black Bear is expected to become a national chain. “We never thought we’d be a big corporation,” said Manley from the corner booth Monday morning. “We thought we were opening a diner to celebrate the history of our town... But that’s what sets us apart. Other family dining concepts have faded over the years. But Black Bear is up, a lot. We treat people like they matter. It’s about the stories, about being a part of a community that never lets you feel alone.” The way it was Manley remembers what it was like growing up in Mount Shasta in the 1950s and ’60s, walking by the barber shop when Jim Moore and Gino Trevisan would call out, “You guys gonna win tonight?” He remembers stopping at Windsor’s after school to buy a milkshake when he could afford it and hang out by the candy counter to listen to the high schoolers talk about sports and girls. “I thought they were a big deal. They all knew me, because I was the coach’s kid,” he said. “There was no reason for them to care for me, but they did... that’s how I felt being raised in this town, and that’s how we try to treat everyone at Black Bear. We’re spreading Mount Shasta’s values across the country.” Manley acknowledged that without his partner, Bruce Dean, Black Bear wouldn’t exist. “I am nothing but a dreamer,” Manley said. “Bruce is the ‘get ’er done’ guy, who handles the business and operations side of the partnership... He’s the backbone to go with a good story.” And a storyteller he is. Manley detangles a bear claw that hangs from a gold chain from inside his shirt, where he’s worn it for more than 50 years. He tells of when he was a 12 year old boy who “wanted his Davy Crockett story” and went hunting on Mt. Shasta with former school superintendent Carl Hoberg. “There was this giant black bear. I tried to shoot it, but I had a little gun and that was a big bear,” he said. “It was coming at me, branches were breaking, and it looked like it was going to get to me. But he finally went down. And of course, I sat down and cried. I never killed another bear; I never wanted to. And since that day, this claw has been my good luck totem.” It was from that story, and the tale of gold prospector Justin Sisson, who fell in love with Strawberry Valley and built an inn overlooking the wild berry patches nearby, coupled with the fond memories of his own small town childhood, that the idea for Black Bear Diner grew. “So it’s like, the bear chose us; we didn’t choose the bear,” Manley said. Bear pride Manley explained that his family has been involved with athletics at Mount Shasta High School for generations. His father, Bob Manley Sr., was a coach at MSHS in the 1940s. Bob himself played football and basketball and ran a little track in the 1960s, and in the 1990s, he helped Joe Blevins coach his son, Kris, and stepson, Tyler Carmichael, at MSHS. Today, Kris’s daughter, Abby, is an athlete at MSHS and his other grandchildren, who all wear number 33 on their assorted jerseys, are poised to follow. The framed photos of high school athletes that decorate the walls at Black Bear are something for local alumni to reflect on and be proud of. “People come back today and point at the pictures and tell their kids, ‘Look, that’s me!’” Manley said. “They’re a part of something special.” Supporting local causes Over the years, Black Bear has worked to support many causes, including local schools and their athletic programs. In October, Manley made a record high bid of $5,100 for an auction prize at the Mount Shasta Education Foundation’s Starlight Gala. The funding source for the bid, he said, was Black Bear. As a corporation, Black Bear supports the Make-a-Wish Foundation and has transformed the month of December into a fundraising campaign. Since 2008, Black Bear restaurants have raised $750,000 to help grant the wishes of children facing life-threatening illnesses. Black Bear was also the sponsor of Siskiyou County’s first halfway house for men about three years ago, Manley said. “We just like to support the community however we can. Every Black Bear Diner is committed to giving back to their towns. We know it’s the people who give us our success, and it’s our responsibility to give back.” Spread far and wide Black Bear Diners exist in eight western states, but Manley said they’re still growing and will most likely go national within the next few years. He’s excited to continue sharing Mount Shasta’s story and values with the world. He and Bruce, who are featured in Black Bear commercials airing across the west coast, personally train employees at each of the new restaurants to tell about Mount Shasta, Manley said. “Each restaurant is dedicated to the same simple concepts that made the original Strawberry Valley famous,” he said. To find a Black Bear Diner out of Siskiyou County, go to the franchise website: blackbeardiner.com