Big Bear Cafe
Where: 893 Main St. SW, Gainesville
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to noon Saturday.
For more info: Call 678-450-4644
A big banner hanging from the front posts outside let everyone know that the landmark Big Bear Cafe is back serving its Southern-style country breakfast and lunch plates.
Larry Miller caught up with long-time acquaintances as he dropped in for lunch Monday. He spotted Rosemary Dodd sitting at a table with others. He walked over to say hello and chat.
“We’ve been coming here for years,” Miller said. “I like it because this is not part of a chain like so many other restaurants. You get home-cooked food.”
After closing for more than two months, Big Bear reopened under new management late last week to put an end to rumors that it had closed for good.
Property owner Heyward Hosch brought in Miriam Valdez to take over the kitchen and is grooming young musician Eli Alvarado to be the general manager. Alma Aguirre, an associate who is helping Valdez in the kitchen, said the place had to be thoroughly cleaned and organized while it was closed.
Valdez said the new staff would not be tinkering with the menu, featuring a variety of biscuits with gravy, country-fried steak plates and tried and true sides of green beans, squash casserole, collard greens, fried okra, black-eyed peas and mashed potatoes.
From time to time, Valdez said she’ll slowly introduce specials that add a little Mexican flavor.
Rueben Pierce sat and smoked a cigarette outside the cafe, located at 893 Main St. SW in Gainesville, after finishing a late breakfast.
“This place has been here for as long as I can remember, and I’m 79,” Pierce said.
A small group of men huddled with Pierce as they exchanged some of the cafe’s colorful history. Someone recalled that a man got hit on the head with a pool stick and died on the spot. Pierce heard a different version of the story.
“I think the guy got hit on the head with a shotgun,” Pierce said. “That’s what I heard.”
It was established in 1936, the same year a tornado ripped through Gainesville, killing more than 200 people and leaving destruction in its wake. An iron grill blown from the county courthouse downtown hangs at Big Bear.
Big Bear also is said be the last “railroad cafe” left in the United States that retains much of its original condition.
It’s that rich history that brings patrons of all types, from professionals in suits and ties, to women in fashionable summer dresses, and others in T-shirts and shorts.