By Max Johnston
This story was produced as part of Interlochen Public Radio’s series Order Up: Digging into Northern Michigan’s diners.
The Bear Claw Cafe in Copemish is full of bears. Don’t worry, the bears are only decorative. But they are a part of a unique diner whose owner wants you to look at the animal differently.
The Bear Claw Cafe sits right off the highway in the village of Copemish, Michigan – population: 191.
The cafe is hard to miss. Just follow the bear paws painted on the sidewalk; they’ll lead you right to the front door.
The dining room is small. There are only ten tables or so, but there are a lot of bears. Teddy bears hang from the banisters, carved wooden bears sit on tables and Polaroids of bears cover walls.
Scott Grant is the owner and operator of The Bear Claw Cafe. He describes some of the bear-themed decorations of his diner.
“These here are local sightings here in the area of bear that people have gotten to take pictures of,” Scott said. “This guy right here, he’s probably pushing 600 pounds.”
Scott’s not picky when it comes to decorations.
“It’s not hard, anything black bear,” he says. “There’s a story behind most of them.”
Looking around, you might expect a live grizzly bear to be flipping your pancakes. In fact, the only thing without bears is the menu, unless you count the burger named after one.
“In the fall and in the spring we do a Kodiak Bear Challenge here, which is a 6-and-a-half pound burger, you have an hour to eat it. If you eat it, it’s yours. If not, it’s 23 bucks,” Scott said.
Scott’s passion for bears goes back to when he was a kid, hunting with his family, but he hasn’t gone lately. That’s because in Northwest Michigan, it can take over a decade to get a bear hunting license. Because of that challenge, a lot of hunters are eager to shoot a bear, but not Scott.
The last time he went bear hunting, over 20 years ago, Scott had a chance to shoot a bear but he says he didn’t want to.
“It just wasn’t what I wanted. I knew that bear was in good shape, and it would probably live for a lot of years, and it was just too small for me,” Scott said. “It wouldn’t even have made a throw rug. I’m looking for something that will cover my dining room.”
Scott’s other passion is food. After working as a chef in Grand Rapids for over 25 years, Scott retired and moved to Copemish. But he couldn’t stay away from the kitchen. So he bought some property and opened The Bear Claw Cafe.
Everything that’s served here is made from scratch, from the gravy to the bear claws themselves.
“Hanging above my door is my philosophy ‘simple foods cooked right are delicious,’ and that’s what we do here. Everything is homemade,” Scott said.
Customers may come in for the food, but Scott wants them to leave with some knowledge.
“People ask me about bear all the time, and I tell them the same thing I’m telling you – that you really don’t have to fear bear,” Scott said.
If you’re as scared of bears as I am, swing by The Bear Claw Cafe and see if Scott changes your mind.
This story was produced under a partnership of Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism and Interlochen Public Radio.