DUANESBURG — Travelers visit England to see royalty.
They visit Duanesburg to taste royalty.
The Bear's Steakhouse—which is celebrating 50 years in business this year—is well known for its chateaubriand. Diners order an entire tenderloin of beef baked with the restaurant's own marinade and spices.
Described on The Bear's menu as the "royalty of beef," the dish can be ordered for both parties of two and for larger parties.
But there's more to The Bear's than beef. The restaurant was founded in January 1969 by Robert Payne Sr. and his wife Patricia. Bob Payne knew the restaurant business, and had worked in famous places such as The Parrot House and Valley Grille in Schoharie, the Van Dyck in Schenectady and Some Place Else in Schuylerville, among other places.
The Paynes bought the former Duane Manor Cocktail Lounge from Frank "Skinny" Boyle and put Bob's nickname—"Bear"—into the title of the establishment.
Patricia "Mama Bear" Payne is still baking in the kitchen at age 82. Sons Robert Payne Jr.—a culinary instructor at SUNY Schenectady County Community College—and John remain mainstays in the business.
Robert Payne Jr. remembers the early days. He says he was standing on top of a beer case in front of the sink and washing dishes as a child.
"General Electric was full and going strong," Payne said. "They were open at 10 o'clock in the morning until 4 o'clock in the morning. What started them off in the business, they were doing sandwiches and the 'Bearburger,' they were huge hamburgers."
The place on Duanesburg Road has not changed much over 50 years, and that's by design. Between 44 and 48 people will be seated at 10 tables Wednesday through Saturday nights.
"We haven't expanded," Payne said. "I think that's what has kept us really special. A lot of time, I think people think bigger is better, and it's not. I think you lose touch."
Robert Payne Sr. passed away in May 2013, but his ideas and practices remain major influences at The Bear's.
"My father had a commitment to this business," the younger Payne said.
"Papa Bear" always told family members they had to know the restaurant's customers. These customers were doing the Payne family a favor just by visiting The Bear's.
"He used to say, the two most forgotten words are 'Thank you,'" Payne said. "Thank you for coming in for a Coke or a beer, or just for coming in.
"We've carried on his traditions and his beliefs," Payne added. "He was one of the most phenomenal mentors to so many in the business."
And while The Bear's is famous for the chateaubriand, steaks and prime ribs of beef au jus, Payne said there are other choices on the menu. "Mama Bear's soup of the day" is one. Pork, lamb and fish selections are also popular. Gluten-free choices are available.
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Payne said The Bear's formula includes buying the best cuts of meat available. That's good for the diners, and good for kitchen personnel.
"It's beautiful," Payne said. "You're working with the Cadillac of the Cadillac for beef."
Payne estimates that about 30 percent of the restaurant's customers come from outside the Capital Region. He also said people who come to The Bear's come for the dining experience; there's a difference, he said, between going to dinner and dining out.
"When you come to The Bear's, you're coming to dine," he said. "You're coming for the experience."
Reservations are suggested. So are appetites.
"Be hungry," Payne said.