Melissa Owens has been working in hospitality her entire adult life, starting as part of a service team for a local diner. She married, had her daughter, Abbigail, and when the owners sold the restaurant, she began thinking about branching out on her own. Now, ten years later, Owens has built a successful career operating her hometown diner — The Hungry Bear on the Military Turnpike in the town of Plattsburgh — and is happy with the result.
Before she started out Owens had her husband, Chad, and her father-in-law join her for a walk through the potential space. “It was a feed and seed store prior and had been vacant for a while but it had potential,” she explained. “We put on a roof, installed new floors and modified the whole space ourselves. Abbigail was three at the time and Chad was working in corrections down state. We bought the building in February and with the help of his parents and a lot of nights and weekends we opened in June of 2010.”
Owens was quick to point out that without the help of her family and community she would not have been able to open or maintain the restaurant. “Three months after we opened I gave birth to my son and took some time off.” With a four year old, a newborn and a new business Owens learned the value of delegating. “I’m lucky to have the team that I do. We’ve been working together for almost twenty years now.” The team she is referring to is made up of Mike Kimbler, Heather Kelly and about a dozen waitstaff.
Discussing the pandemic shutdown, Owens offered, “I’d never really considered myself a political person. I worked hard to provide and care for my family but since March it has been important to not only listen but actively seek out information. Everything has changed so rapidly.”
The Hungry Bear had never done much take out business but when the restaurant was allowed to reopen the service team figured it out quickly. “The support that I got was incredible,” Owens said. The staff adapted to the changes with ease, especially when it came to outdoor seating. “We were lucky we had some place to expand but it’s been really hard on the servers. We never planned to serve that way but they made it work and I’m proud of them.”
Owens’ team seems to be proof positive that you reap what you sow. She started her venture because she liked making people happy, surrounded herself with like minded individuals and ended up carving out a successful business, despite the challenges from the pandemic. “We try to be sensitive to the changing habits of customers. We started out with 75 seats and now that we’ve gone inside for table service we can only have 33 seats filled at a time. It can be tough to plan for how service is going to go staff wise.”
When asked about her five-year plan Owens smiled and said, “The pandemic has altered the course a little, but not the whole plan. I want to do this until my kids graduate. I’m still happy to come in every day and I learn something new — from paperwork to plumbing, cooking to cleaning.” After twenty years in the business Owens still embraces the everyday opportunity to learn and to dish up something delicious.
The Hungry Bear
2 Big Hank Plaza Rd.
Plattsburgh, NY 12901