One of Spencer’s most distinctive dining options is closing.
The Bear Coffeehouse and Wine Bar, 24 West Park Street, will close Nov. 1, co-owners Dave and Leann Jacobsen announced early Monday evening. The space, including the former Gary’s on the River upstairs, will be available for Christmas parties and other events using private caterers until Dec. 31.
The Jacobsens opened The Bear in 2009 to bring a new type of dining and coffee shop experience to Spencer. Leann Jacobsen said neither she nor her husband ever intended to run The Bear themselves long term. Still, she said the call to close the business was tough to make.
“It’s a chapter and I think that’s the best way you can describe it,” she said. “Dave and I aren’t restaurant people and we didn’t open The Bear to run it forever. We feel like six years is a really good time. Other life circumstances are starting to take over, tending to family who needs help and Dave with his other businesses. So, I don’t know that there’s ever a good time. It was more out of necessity and it was very sad to have to make this decision.”
Along with coffee, The Bear served beer, wine and had one of the most creative food menus in town. It also became a popular meeting place.
“It absolutely was a community gathering spot,” Jacobsen said. “When I first got to Spencer, that was really missing, along with a place where you could just meet up with friends, have a beer in a really casual and relaxed setting, have really good food, good coffee – all those things that you could get in communities of larger sizes.”
Though the decision was difficult, Leann said the timing was right.
“It is (like) a child,” she said. “It got as much love and attention as a family member. I’m really, really sad about it, but I think that we trust that by stepping back the right person will be able to come in.”
The Jacobsens are hopeful they’ll soon find someone who wants to continue running the business as it is or as something new, either through leasing or purchasing the property.
“The beauty of the space is that we’ve started it,” Leann said. “There’s value to the brand and the people already come. They may have a little tweak on what their plans are. It doesn’t have to stay the way it is, but I think what’s really important is that it continues to serve the community and be that place where people can meet and hangout.”
When the Jacobsens opened The Bear in 2009, they moved the former St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church buidling to the site to sit atop the structure. In 2013, they opened Gary’s on the River, a barbecue restaurant, inside the church.
“We built this facility to honor the legacy of my brother Gary, and to restore a beautiful church,” Dave stated in a press release. “When we started this project, we never intended to personally operate a restaurant or cafe. We saw the need in 2009, and still see it. Today, the need still exists to provide entertainment and find new ways to enhance the quality of life in Spencer – attracting and keeping young people in our community is essential.”
In the press release, Leann thanked everyone who supported The Bear.
“We are forever grateful for the community – our beloved regulars and people of all ages who’ve considered The Bear their place, as well as the visitors and guests from near and far who have supported and encouraged us over the years,” she stated. “We couldn’t have done this without the Bear family (“Bearistas”), who have shared their time and talents and energy over the years.”
At one point, The Bear shared space with Gary’s on the River, BonBon Frozen Yogurt and StartupCity Spencer, the latter a coworking and business incubator Leann launched to help entrepreneurs find footing in Spencer.
Though its focus has shifted away from the original intent, StartupCity Spencer still has two tenants, The Healing Tree and 360 MedSpas. Jacobsen said those tenants will remain in that space.
Gary’s on the River has been vacant since last December when then-owner Rabab Koepp, who owns Rabab’s in Spirit Lake, decided to shutter her version of Gary’s. Koepp had bought Gary’s in November 2016 and kept much of its menu, but added some of her own twists.
Leann said both The Bear and Gary’s spaces are turnkey business opportunities.
“Gary’s has this kitchen that’s just awesome,” she said. “And then The Bear, we’ve got all the furniture, we’ve got the equipment – we’ve got the Mercedes-Benz of coffee makers. So, yeah, it’s all there and if somebody would want to, it’s super turnkey.”
Jacobsen said someone could make some changes to the business, but that its atmosphere lends itself to a certain direction.
“I think when you walk in and you see the space, and it fuels all sorts of creativity, you know, just a really nice vibe,” Jacobsen said. “I think it can be a lot of things. It’s very naturally a coffee shop, wine bar.”
Jacobsen sees untapped potential in The Bear’s wine bar side.
“It would be really nice, I think, for the next person to envision what could really happen at night,” she said. “Because I think that’s missing (in Spencer). Just a nice place to go hangout, have a beer, very relaxed. We never really did get that going as much as it could, but I think that’s a real opportunity there.”
Feature photo: The Bear Coffeehouse and Wine Bar sits underneath the former St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church building, which used to house Gary’s on the River. Gary’s closed late last year. The Bear will close later this month.