Workers lower the bear sculpture to its spot of honor in front of the Black Bear Diner Friday morning in Sequim.  -- Photo by Margaret McKenzie/Peninsula Daily News

Workers lower the bear sculpture to its spot of honor in front of the Black Bear Diner Friday morning in Sequim. -- Photo by Margaret McKenzie/Peninsula Daily News

Bears — sculptures, we mean — drop into new diner

This story has been changed to correct a previous version that said Holiday Inn Express o section of Sewner Bret Wirta moved to the North Olympic Peninsula nine years ago. Bret and Trisha Wirta live in the Ballard section of Seattle.

SEQUIM — Sequim was the site of a black bear attack — wooden bears, that is.

On Friday, the town was descended upon by a whole family of bears, some holding fishing rods and others kissing, while one sat in a canoe.

Another held a sign welcoming people to the Black Bear Diner.

With their whimsical, Pooh Bear-like faces, they are the work of chain-saw carver Ray Schulz of Northwoods Sculpture in Deer Park, near Spokane.

His bears are specially commissioned for the exteriors and interiors of Black Bear Diners nationwide.

The diner in Sequim is having a soft opening Tuesday at 1471 E. Washington St., next door to the Holiday Inn Express.

Although Black Bear Diners are a chain of restaurants based in Redding, Calif., this one is unique, said Holiday Inn Express owner Bret Wirta of Seattle as he sat in a booth with his laptop while activity whirled around him.

The separate hotel and restaurant sites will share a pond and be linked by a bridge — as well as electronically, so hotel guests can charge a meal with their room keys, and restaurant guests can reserve a room at dinner.

The 125-seat restaurant and 77-room Holiday Inn Express will function independently or work together for the 250-seat conference center guests as needed, Wirta has said.

“I see it as a three-legged stool,” said Wirta, who hails originally from Lake Sunapee, N.H.

“We think the return on a development like this will come back many times to the community,” he said, noting that his hotel is the first thing travelers see as they come to Sequim from the east.

Not only that, but he added: “Our goal is to be the best Black Bear Diner out there.”

For those unfamiliar with the Black Bear Diner chain, Wirta explained that it’s a family-style restaurant on the same order as Cracker Barrel and Bob Evans.

Founded in Mount Shasta, Calif., by Bob and Laurie Manley and Bruce Dean in 1995, it now has some 51 restaurants in eight states, including franchises in Olympia and Federal Way.

Only a few are owned by the company; the rest, like Wirta’s, are franchised to local owners.

Inside the Sequim restaurant — which will serve breakfast,

lunch and dinner — are many Northwest decorative touches and, naturally, bear paraphernalia wherever one looks.

Wirta and his wife, Trisha, also own the Quality Inn and Suites on Sequim’s west end at 134 River Road.

While Wirta talked Friday, John Canda, general manager, trained wait staff while architect George Hanson of Seattle made final touches to the building, general contractor Larry Rodarte of Santa Maria, Calif., directed crew members, and Rusty Sage of Sage Landscaping & Design of Sequim mulched flower beds.

Meanwhile, outside, Charlie Roberts, owner of Sequim’s Admiralty Crane, was getting his ducks — er, his bears — in a row.

With Bruce Goettling at the helm of a 38-ton crane — not his biggest, Roberts hastened to say, but one that still towered over the surrounding countryside — about a dozen bears, many holding carved fish, were soon unloaded from a semi-truck parked by the restaurant.

From there, “Papa Bear,” a 10-foot-tall sculpture that will welcome folks into the diner out front, was lifted into the air and placed in front of the restaurant.

Overhead, a curious eagle circled.

“He must be wondering where those bears got all that salmon,” Roberts remarked with a grin.


News Editor Margaret Mc­Kenzie can be contacted at 306-452-2345, ext. 5064 or at

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