Laura Dean Bennett
If you have a thing for gas station food, and interesting, little, out of the way spots where you’re assured of getting a good meal and friendly service, then you will love, love, love The Bear’s Den.
It’s a brisk, gray Saturday in January when my friends and I park beside the Liberty filling station and convenience store on Rt. 28/92 in Boyer and carefully negotiate the ice as we walk to the right side of the building where a charming homemade sign, featuring a roaring bear, says, “The Bear’s Den.”
We’re greeted by Briana Morgan, a friendly young lady – presumably our waitress.
Briana knows her way around. She should, she’s been working at The Bear’s Den since her senior year at Pocahontas County High School.
She’s now a junior at Davis and Elkins College, majoring in Biology with a minor in Chemistry, but she still works Wednesday and Thursday evenings and weekends at The Den.
“I like it here,” she said, with a smile. “I like our customers, and I like meeting new people.”
We’re also greeted by Jacob Taylor, a strapping young man who takes time out from cooking long enough to stick his head out of the kitchen and call out, “Welcome, folks.”
Both these young people have worked at The Bear’s Den so long that they’re family.
Owners Herbie and Angela Fisher say that very thing.
“Those kids are great,” Angela said. “When we take our summer trip to the beach, Jacob and Briana are invited along –“just like family.”
The business was first owned by Big Jim Ryder and his wife, Violet.
They were operating the gas station, convenience store and the restaurant, which was called “Ryder’s, when Herbie and Angela Fisher bought the business in 2013.
Angela and Herbie came up with the bear theme and the name.
“We decided to call it The Bear’s Den, mostly after what people like to do around here,” Angela explained. “Most people are into hunting.
When asked what brings the most compliments from customers, Briana says they’re usually about the homemade flavors and the size of the portions.
“And we also get a lot of remarks about how good our hamburger steaks are and about our honey dipped chicken.”
“Those seem to be some of our customers’ favorites.
“We have lots of regulars who come in quite often,” she explained.
Breakfast customers like Darryl and Nancy Carr and the crew from Murphy’s Auto keep the morning staff hopping.
Of course, there’s the regular lunch and supper crowd, too, who come back regularly for the wide selection of easy country fare.
On Sundays, there’s the regular after-church crowd- “neighbors like the Starks and the Barkleys who come every Sunday or at least three weeks a month,” Angela Fisher explained.
The home brewed sweet tea is just like Mama used to make. But if you want to whet your whistle with another kind of brew, The Bear’s Den carries a nice selection of domestic beers.
But there’s no finding my favorite meal on the menu. You have to know to ask for the ribeye special.
This unpretentious gas station/diner has some of the best ribeye steaks around and they know how to cook them to perfection.
Friday and Saturday evenings, you can almost always get the ribeye special. I didn’t know this until my last visit – you can also get a ribeye during the week – if there are any left from the weekend.
The $19.99 special comes with an absolutely delicious cut of beef – a steak so tender that it almost melts in your mouth – and your choice of two sides, which can be a baked potato with butter and sour cream and a house salad, if you wish to order like I did.
The Bear’s Den likes to stay up with the changing seasons and holidays so there’s always a new bit of decorating to admire there.
The décor-a mélange of charming bear themed tchotchkes – some of which are for sale – and even the café style curtains featuring baby bears and baby fawns, reflect the restaurant’s name.
Angela is in charge of making sure that The Bear’s Den gets the holiday treatment throughout the year. Right now they’re decorated for Valentines Day.
Come Valentine’s Day, the restaurant will be packed, and the special will be surf and turf – rib eye steak and garlic buttered grilled shrimp.
“In the summertime we are really busy with people who come in to ride the Cass train,” Angela said. “And we really get busy during the first week of deer season.”
The restaurant has regulars who come back every year and there are always a few new customers who are experiencing The Bear’s Den hospitality for the first time.
“Oh, there are a lot of folks who come back year after year,” our waitress, Briana, said, smiling. “And it’s so nice to visit with them while they’re here and catch up on their news,” she added.
Wondering if it’s a proprietary secret, I ask where the delicious steaks come from and am told they used to come from Kinder’s Meat Market, but now they’re right off the U.S. Food truck, which delivers almost all of The Bear’s Den food supplies.
“We don’t know exactly why our steaks are so good, but I’d be guessing it’s why all our food is good here,” Briana said, teasingly. “It’s the love we put into everything we make.”
Weather might seem to be an issue for The Bear’s Den customers up here in the north end of a big county where high elevations often bring in some low temps and large snowfalls this time of year.
But Briana says it hardly ever affects the little gas station restaurant.
“We’ve had to close, due to weather, only a few times in all the years I’ve been around,” she said.
Which is a good thing as Miss Violet Ryder, the former owner, makes an almost daily pilgrimage from her home across the creek to her former kingdom.
Violet came cruising into the restaurant and, with a mischievous grin, called out to the two young people on duty, “Hey, I want a chicken sandwich!”
“Coming right up, Miss Ryder,” was the reply.
Her husband built the restaurant onto the building after the gas station and store got established.
Jim and Violet worked the gas station and then the store at the gas station and then opened the restaurant.
“It was just called Ryder’s back then,” Miss Violet recalled. “Everything I cooked was homemade. I had a lady friend who made all the biscuits from scratch, for us, too.”
“I guess we were famous for my mashed potatoes and my coleslaw. I made my own dressing and raised my own cabbage and everything for that slaw.
“There was a preacher’s wife who’d call quite often and want to know, ‘What are you doing, Violet? Because I sure need a big bowl of coleslaw.’ And I’d make it for her. I sold a lot of coleslaw like that.”
After Miss Violet leaves to make sure her “bear dog is still livin’,” We go back to our dinner plates and eagerly dip into the brown gravy which Angela makes and quickly decide it’s the best brown gravy in the world.
It’s perfect for soaking up any extra bites of the home made rolls, which are baked by Angela and Jacob.
They’re light and fluffy and the perfect complement to the meal.
Jacob Taylor has been working at The Bear’s Den since 2018.
When he’s not at the restaurant, you can find him hard at work at Jacob Meck’s construction business.
“We just do whatever needs to be done,” Taylor says, smiling.
“Work in the kitchen, work out front with the customers. Whatever.”
Olivia Bickford, a local junior high school student, also works at The Bear’s Den and has another job at the Appalachian Kitchen.
These Pocahontas County kids really know how to get after the work.
The restaurant employs four waitresses, two cooks (besides Angela), three dishwashers and a floater who can step in for just about any job on any day, when needed.
And sometimes, as one would expect in the restaurant business, things get hectic.
“Last Valentine’s Day we were really slammed and we ran out of steaks,” Taylor remembered.
“It could have been bad, but Trent’s came to our rescue.
“They went back in after hours and got us the steaks we needed. They really saved the day!” he added.
“That’s just how folks are around here. We help each other.”
Herbie and Angela Fisher have been married since 1997. They met at the Highland County Fair when they were teenagers.
Herbie has been logging since 1999, since way before they owned the gas station, store and restaurant.
“He still works at logging through the week and helps me with restaurant work in the evenings and on weekends,” Angela said.
Before she became the reigning “she bear” at The Bear’s Den, Angela worked at the Hermitage Restaurant and then leased the Hermitage Exxon from Madge Bledsoe for a couple of years.
“Yes, restaurant work is hard work – very demanding,” Angela admitted. “There’s never a day off.
“It’s a full time job running a restaurant – everybody has to work!”
“I think what we like best about owning the business and especially the restaurant is being able to see the people who come through – meeting new people – and sometimes they tell us old stories about the place,” she related.
This place has always been a neighborhood meeting spot.
People came for the country cooking and visiting.
The Valentine’s special, Surf & Turf, featuring a ribeye steak and garlic buttered grilled shrimp will be served on Sunday, February 13, and Monday, February 14.
Herbie and Angela want to thank to the community for their continued support and friendship over the years.
“We have the best customers in the world,” Angela said. “We have customers who drink three and four cups of coffee every morning and, of course, we only charge for the one.
“They can feel at home and that’s what brings them back!” she laughed.
Why not check it out for yourself?
Stop by for a “beary” good down home meal and some country hospitality at The Bear’s Den at 10811 Potomac Highlands Trail (Route 28/92) in Boyer, in northern Pocahontas County.
Their phone number is 681-206-7973.
And you can also visit The Bear’s Den on Facebook.