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1/19/2003

Bear takes a bite out

By Felix Doligosa Jr.
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Antler chandeliers hover over a stone fireplace that lights the view of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains outside, and it’s hard not to think you’re taking a lunch break in a mountain lodge in the new Bear Rock Café in Longmont.

At 1067 S. Hover St., the 4,000-square-foot restaurant offers custom-made jumbo-sized sandwiches with 4 ounces of meat on Bear Rock’s signature ciabetta semi-flatbread. Menu names such as the Moose sandwich and Rockslide Roast Beef fit the decorated walls of canoes and grizzly bear portraits.

“I thought this would be great in the Front Range,” said general manager Frank Sherman. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Bear Rock also offers soups, salads, baked potatoes and packaged goods such as bread. Catering service is available and is delivered in the “bearmobile.”

Sherman, a Fort Collins native who claims to be at least 50 years old, tackled the idea of managing and bringing Bear Rock to Colorado after he retired and got so good at golfing that he started bothering his wife.

“He was following me to the supermarket,” said Kay Sherman, who works as Bear Rock Café’s catering manager.

The couple visited their daughter in North Carolina and ate lunch at a locally based Bear Rock Café. Impressed by the service, the Shermans attended Bear Rock University to learn how to manage a gourmet sandwich shop. After what Frank calls a Marine boot camp, they graduated from the school and were ready to bring the franchise to Colorado.

“Frank graduated sigma cum laude,” Kay said jokingly. “I was salutatorian because I messed up once on the menu quiz.”

A year and a half after studying and finding building space, the first Colorado Bear Rock Café in Longmont opens Monday.

Frank and Kay look forward to working together. There hasn’t been any head-butting yet.

“In the store, I’m the general manager,” Frank said. “At home, she’s the boss.”

Frank describes the Bear Rock Café as a fast-casual establishment that offers the quick delivery of healthy food in a relaxed atmosphere and gets the best of both fast-food and white-table-cloth restaurants.

Restaurants known as “fast-casual” are on the rise. According to Technomic, a Chicago food consulting firm, sales of custom-made sandwiches are rising 15 percent a year, while the growth rate for hamburgers is increasing only 3 percent a year.

“The most precious thing you have is time,” said Frank Sherman, who used to work in the retail supermarket industry.

“We won’t hold you hostage when you’re waiting for your order.”

While waiting for a Sasquash sandwich or a mountain-stuffed baked potato, the customer can relax on a loveseat or use the wireless free Internet connection if he has a laptop.

None of Bear Rock’s menu items are cooked with grease, and all are prepared fresh.

“I would rather be out of food, than serve food that isn’t fresh,” Sherman said. “It’s the best way to stay fit.”

The Longmont Bear Rock Café plans to have about 45 employees and is currently hiring workers. The restaurant is open from 7 a.m to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.