Business is “balls to the wall” Chris McConn, assistant general manager, said about the new Mother Bear’s location, which opened Dec. 1.
The new restaurant, located at 2980 W. Whitehall Crossing Blvd. on the west side of Bloomington, offers seating for 220 in a ski-lodge style environment and has hired 85 new employees. The location was previously home to the Smokey Bone.
There has been talk for years about opening another Mother Bear’s location, McConn said. When the owners saw the old Smokey Bone building, they knew it was the right place.
“The first location was busting at the seams,” McConn said. “The new building fit, and it was a fair price.”
Since opening last Thursday, the restaurant has been instantly full, and there have been no more than 10 hours when the restaurant has not had a wait, McConn said. Customers have had to wait up to 90 minutes for a table, he said, but the nearby shopping, which includes Kohl’s, Lowe’s and PetSmart, keeps customers busy so they do not mind the wait as much.
McConn said he expects to see more college students at the Third Street location because of its proximity to campus and more west-side Bloomington residents at the new location. Game day traffic is also expected to be more intense at the west side location because it is closer to Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall.
Holland Nightenhelser, general manager at Mother Bear’s, said the owners purchased the new building in October.
Luckily, the owners did not have to change much about the building to turn it into a Mother Bear’s, McConn said. He said some of the flooring was changed and new ceiling tiles were put in, but the owners chose to maintain most of the original building design, including the log posts. Keeping with the tradition of the original east side location, Mother Bear’s will allow customers to write on the walls and in the booths; however, the logs are off limits because they are real trees and cannot be replaced, McConn said.
The art work is another standout feature of the new Mother Bear’s location, Tabitha Frizzi, bartender and server, said. Ray McConn, one of the business owners, hand-picked all of the paintings and stained glass at art festivals, she said.
Jess Newlin, a local artist and sister-in-law of one of the owners, painted the mural in the kitchen.
It took her about three weeks to a month to sketch and paint the entire mural, which consists of Bloomington landmarks, such as Assembly Hall and the courthouse, Mother Bear’s mermaids and the Fairy Godmother Bear, said Matthew Tourney, front of house manager.
The restaurant is already planning for the future, McConn said.
Carry-out and delivery are not available at the new location yet, McConn said. Because dine-in customers make up 70 percent of the business at the original location, the lack of immediate carry-out and delivery services is not a huge concern, Chris said. However, they plan to have carry-out and delivery up and running soon.
Mother Bear’s also plans to expand seating options at the new location in the spring to 260 by constructing a patio with a fire pit and gazebos, McConn said.
“We hope the people love the new location as much as we do,” McConn said.
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