Restaurant owner Robert L. Payne will live on through The Bear’s Steakhouse and his Capital Region disciples and in classrooms around the country.
“I used [Payne’s] examples in my classes all the time,” said Toby Strianese, who has been teaching in Schenectady County Community College’s culinary program for almost four decades.
Strianese not only talks about Payne; he wrote a textbook with his wife that features Payne’s skills as a restaurant owner.
Payne died Tuesday at the age of 77.
Born in Schoharie in 1935, he got a job at the Parrott House and Valley Grille in Schoharie after high school. Using skills he picked up there, he left his mark at the Van Dyck Restaurant in Schenectady before purchasing Duane Manor, a two-family house in Duanesburg, in 1969. He and his wife, Pat, who was his business partner, turned the establishment into The Bear’s Steakhouse and raised their four children there.
The family-owned and -operated restaurant received numerous culinary awards in its 44 years, which Strianese said was due to the standards set by Payne. He said the restaurant offered great prices, quality food and a familiar atmosphere.
“You were a guest in their home,” Strianese said of eating at Bear’s, which was literally true, because Payne’s family lived in the building.
The restaurant was described in a recent Gazette review as “a meat lover’s dream.” Payne was described as “a stickler for detail,” and patrons were encouraged to come with a big appetite.
According to the review, the restaurant was so popular its phone number wasn’t listed — it kept busy with its loyal regular customers. If you could get the number, reservations had to be made weeks in advance.
The most popular item on the menu was the chateaubriand, which comes from a thick cut of beef tenderloin and requires at least two people to consume. Strianese said the chateaubriand was his favorite, and he liked the beef soup as his first course.
Because Payne wanted people to know their patronage was appreciated, Strianese said, “One of the key things he always told me is, always welcome your guests into your place and make sure you say ‘thank you’ when they leave.”
This attentive front of the house service, Strianese said, is what made Bear’s unique and helped it flourish.
He said this technique is also practiced by Angelo Mazzone, whom Strianese described as a disciple of Payne. Mazzone is the owner of Mazzone Hospitality, which runs restaurants throughout the Capital Region, including Prime in Saratoga Springs and Aperitivo Bistro in Schenectady.
But Payne’s style will also live on at his restaurant, which will continue to operate under the stewardship of his wife and two sons.
“They have that same positive attitude toward their guests,” said Strianese, who said he would dine at the new incarnation “in a minute.”
Calling hours for Payne will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday at DeMarco-Stone Funeral Home in Rotterdam.