Order Up: The Bear Claw Cafe has bears everywhere but the menu

By MAX JOHNSTON
Capital News Service

LANSING — The Bear Claw Cafe in Copemish is full of bears. Don’t worry — they’re only decorative. But they are part of a unique diner whose owner wants you to look at the animal differently.

The Bear Claw Cafe sits right off a highway not too far from Manistee in the village of Copemish, 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 — only 10 tables or so — but it has a lot of bears. Teddy bears hang from the banisters, carved wooden bears sit on tables and Polaroids of bears cover walls.

Scott Grant, the café’s owner and operator, describes some of the bear-themed decorations.
“These here are local sightings here in the area of bear that people have gotten to take pictures of,” Grant said. “This guy right here, he’s probably pushing 600 pounds.”

Grant’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 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 6½-pound burger. You have an hour to eat it. If you eat it, it’s yours. If not, it’s 23 bucks.”

Grant’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 more than a decade to get a bear hunting license. Because of that challenge, a lot of other hunters are eager to shoot a bear, but not him.

The last time he went bear hunting, more than 20 years ago, Grant 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,” he said. “It wouldn’t even have made a throw rug. I’m looking for something that will cover my dining room.”

Grant’s other passion is food. After working as a chef in Grand Rapids for more than 25 years, he 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 he serves 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,” Grant said.

Customers may come in for the food, but he 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 –you really don’t have to fear bear,” Grant said.

This story was produced under a partnership with Interlochen Public Radio and Great Lakes Echo.