Black Bear Diner CEO and co-founder Bruce Dean is quite explicit about what has fueled its growth to 109 restaurants in nine states, with plans to add 25 more in 2018. “We have great homemade food and offer a great value proposition,” he says from the company’s Redding, California, headquarters. Dean says its large portions attract a steady clientele; many of whom leave with leftovers.
Menu items such as Bigfoot Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs with Corned Beef Hash leave customers satisfied. “People don’t want to be told how much you can eat. We give them plenty. I don’t measure out the home fries we serve,” Dean says.
But Black Bear Diner also offers smaller portions and egg white healthy breakfasts for those so inclined. “Not everybody wants to eat like me,” Dean says, referring to his 6-foot-4-inch and 250-pound physique.
Unlike other chains that specialize in breakfast and lunch and close early, Black Bear extends to dinner. “We serve a lot of comfort food, like meatloaf that mom used to make,” Dean says.
Dean has built a family culture among its employees. “We have some of the lowest turnover in the industry,” he says, alluding to the fact that training new employees is time-consuming and costly.
Its décor attracts a loyal clientele as well. “People enjoy our carved bears and black bear theme,” which fits for a restaurant chain located mostly out West. Dean, however, says that it’s expanding to Oklahoma City and Houston, and expects the brown bears will resonate there as well.
Dean says that full-service restaurants encounter strong competition from fast casual and fast-service competitors. “Time is of the essence for most folks. People don’t want to sit and wait,” he says. He and his staff often focus on how Black Bear can expedite the experience, except maybe on Sunday afternoons after church or football when families want to linger and chat.
Though it’s a chain, every menu at each Black Bear Diner is different. “We want to make it a neighborhood community restaurant, where we emphasize hospitality. Each menu is tailored to the community,” Dean says.
Helping to finance Black Bear’s expansion is an investment in 2016 from PWP Growth Equity, a $600 million private equity fund managed by Perella Weinberg Partners, a middle-market fund.