Story by, Da’Sha Tuck, Staff writer
When Todd Swain was a boy, his father used to say Swain was “Hungry as a bear.” So when the elder Swain started a restaurant, the name was obvious: the Hungry Bear.
Forty-six years later, the Hungry Bear is Murray’s oldest continuously-run family restaurant. Because it’s open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., it specializes in breakfast and lunches. It’s also known for its special greetings on its sign.
Ronald Swain, Todd Swain’s father who died eight years ago, opened the Hungry Bear in 1970.
To the Swains, family did not just mean blood relatives. It extended to those who passed through the Hungry Bear’s doors.
Anita Cashion, longtime employee from Murray, said she became part of the family when she got her first job at the Hungry Bear at 15 years old.
“It’s like family,” Cashion said. “My home away from home.”
In 1970, when the Hungry Bear first opened, the restaurant was located where Zax’s Custom Screen Printing is today. During that time, the Swain family also owned the current location of the restaurant, 1310 Main St., but it was used as an arcade.
One reason they decided to combine the two businesses was because their customers’ cars were being towed. That was unacceptable said Todd Swain, Ronald’s youngest son and co-owner of the Hungry Bear.
In 1988, the family decided to combine the two locations. The smaller location was sold and the restaurant was combined with the arcade into the Main Street location. Over the years, the games thinned out, leaving Murray with the Hungry Bear as it is today.
After the move, business improved. The larger location allowed for more space for seating and cooking, Swain said.
“I only eat breakfast at the Hungry Bear,” said Liz Wall, sophomore from Murray. “It’s where I grew up coming and the food is always delicious.”
After being away from Murray, Wall said the first place she wants to eat is the Hungry Bear because it reminds her of her hometown.
Wall is among the Murray State students who have become regulars.
“We run the gamut on customer base,” Swain said.
Swain said the Hungry Bear has a wide range of regular customers, some who come for both breakfast and lunch.
Getting to know his customer base as members of the community is his favorite part of the job, Swain said.
Most restaurants have their specials or hours displayed, but not the Hungry Bear. Its sign displays more important messages, such as birthday announcements. Swain said it’s the small things that keep a family restaurant like the Hungry Bear alive in the community.
Swain, referencing the birthday announcement currently displayed on his sign, said ever since Kirsten Houston was born he has always put her birthday up. This year she is 15 years old.
“Her grandfather comes in here regularly and he hands me the note every year letting me know it’s time for her birthday,” Swain said.
Swain said locals will come and take pictures next to the sign when their names are on the board.
Recently, he said he saw a picture on Facebook of a Murray State alumnus standing in front of the sign in 1974, showing that tradition is as old as the restaurant.
“It makes me feel proud,” Swain said. “When homecoming comes around and the students come back and they are happy to see that the Hungry Bear is still here, it makes us happy to hear that.”