By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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While the 82-year-old man's breakfast may not seem like much, Waterman's Tuesday meal marked the end of his successful quest to eat in every Black Bear Diner in the United States.
“The name intrigued me,” Waterman said, recalling his first Black Bear meal.
“And I've never had anything less than great food and great service.”
For his victory breakfast, Waterman was joined by the chain's signature Brother and Sister Bear mascots and officials from the chain's corporate headquarters.
That included company co-owner David Doty, who traveled to Sequim from his home in Colorado to share Waterman's culminating meal.
Waterman's son, Rick, also made the trip to Sequim to eat with his dad.
“It's really just honoring and humbling to know he thought enough about us and what we do to do something like this,” Doty said of Waterman, who lives in Tehachapi, Calif.
Bret Wirta, owner of the Sequim franchise, presented Waterman with a signature menu and laid out balloons and a sign welcoming the Black Bear's “Superfan.”
Waterman's first meal was in February 2008.
He was somewhat at loose ends after his wife died and he retired from his work as a traveling salesman.
While visiting Bend, Ore., he asked around about a good place to eat.
Hotel staff recommended the Black Bear Diner.
“And it was perfect,” he said, “exactly what I was looking for, and I love the Western, outdoors kind of atmosphere.”
That set him off on a quest to find other Black Bears.
“I love to drive, and naturally, I love to eat,” he said.
Since then, he has eaten at 65 Black Bear Diners scattered over nine Western states from the west coast to Sioux City, Iowa, though five of those have since closed.
“There used to be two in Sioux City,” he said. “There's still one, but I hope it didn't have anything to do with me.”
To help fill his retirement free time, Waterman took a job test-driving Kias around the country for the auto manufacturer.
Where did he drive to?
“Anywhere I could find a Black Bear,” Waterman said. “I loved that job.”
He's collected menus from each one, on which he wrote the names of the people he ate with, what he ate and anything else he found significant about each place.
While he does not claim a favorite, Waterman said the newly opened franchise in Bakersfield, Calif., is close enough to his home — 42 miles — for a lunch stop.
Earlier this summer, Waterman was on hand to open a new franchise in Salt Lake City.
He once drove 300 miles to have lunch at a Black Bear Diner, turning around and making a four-plus-hour trip home for dinner.
Waterman said Sequim was the final stop because of its northwestern remoteness.
“It sure isn't on the way to anything,” he said.
He plans to be present this fall when new Black Bear Diners are set to open in Fremont and Pleasanton, Calif.
Doty said he got word about Waterman's mounting collection of Black Bear menus after a manager called headquarters when Waterman divulged his quest to the staff at a Nevada restaurant.
“We couldn't believe it,” Doty said. “He was out just driving around to all of our restaurants on his own.”
Soon, they began to talk back and forth.
Waterman even called Doty once when he was driving through a blinding blizzard in Utah on his way to a Black Bear meal.
“He called me to see how far away he was,” Doty recalled. “I said, 'Dick, you're in a blizzard. Just stop for a second.'”
Waterman's quest inspired the chain to develop a new passport program, which Doty said the wilderness-themed restaurant chain modeled after the National Park Service's passports.
In June, the company rolled out a rewards program for diners who, like Waterman, have “collected” meals at several franchises.
Diners can collect stamps at each stop that, when enough are recorded on the “passport,” entitle them to discounts and travel-themed prizes.
The first Black Bear Diner was opened in 1995 by founders Bob and Laurie Manley and their partner, Bruce Dean, in Mount Shasta City, Calif., in the Strawberry Valley foothills below Mount Shasta, where black bears are native.
Each franchise includes chain-saw-carved statues of black bears made by Ray Schulz of Deer Park, with wildlife murals painted inside by a series of artists.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.