Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Consumer's Perspective: The Hungry Bear

When I first started my job, I would often go to lunch with my father at The Hungry Bear, a pizza buffet place in Layton. The pizza wasn’t great, but for the price (and that it was an all-you-can-eat buffet) it was very good. The store is decorated with bear-related items like a large wooden bear, large stuffed bear hides, and a large diorama of a den. Clearly they have had a lot of fun with the theme, and the place has generally had a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.

But business hasn’t seemed to go well for them. They have a large store, but it isn’t ever full, and usually is nearly empty (at least at lunch time; dinner may be busier). Over the course of several visits, we noticed a steep decline in quality and the service. Instead of having several pizzas up at a time, you’d be waiting in line for pizzas that would disappear in moments. The ingredients seemed to be of lower quality, and they were cutting back on cheese (one of the fundamental ways of detecting a cheap pizza is to look for lots of places without any cheese cover). It didn’t take long before we stopped coming.

Today, we decided to give them another shot. It’s been about a year since we had last eaten there, and there was some hope that things had turned around. The parking lot had only a few cars in it, which doesn’t bode well, but when we got inside, we found nearly the same store that we had enjoyed (prior to the decline). The owner and at least one regular employee were both there, and there was enough pizza for the dozen or so people there. I noted a few changes from the earlier days:

First, instead of plastic plates that had to be washed, they had paper plates. These are the thin, cheap ones, and not the classy Chinet variety. They aren’t as good, and certainly not as solid. Greasy pizza and breadsticks quickly soak through, but if it is keeping them solvent, then it’s probably a good place to cut back without skimping on the important stuff (cheese).

Second, they always had at least one whole pizza up, but each pizza they made had about four varieties on it. They were part cheese, part pepperoni, part meat lover’s, and part supreme. Every time a new pizza came up, you knew that there would be something you liked, and typically there would be something for you whenever you went back to the buffet. Granted, this is a step back from when they would ask you what kind of pizza you wanted as you came in (so they could be making the kinds the customers liked), but it accomplishes the same effect, and in a way that keeps things flowing better.

Third, the bathroom wasn’t so vile. In the past, I couldn’t stand to be in there, but now I just feel a general sense of being in a place where people sometimes don’t wash their hands.

I know that this all sounds like back-handed compliments, but basically this is a nice, economy pizza place, and I commend them for doing what they can to make it work without selling cardboard pizzas. I have always liked the people there, and I hope that they succeed.


Eric said...

I'm certainly not trying to turn Phischkneght into a Business publication, but I've really taken an interest in Jake's ROCI series. I may write more of these, or maybe not. At least it feels good to post something to the 'kneght again.

Jake said...

And it's nice to have you posting again, Eric. Welcome back.

I've also eaten at the Hungry Bear, and they seemed...well, hungry.

I met the owner, and he was eager to know why I was stopping in for my first time, and the place seemed a little...I don't know what to call it.

It seemed that he was on a shoestring budget (probably true), and cared more about saving money than serving customers (probably not true).

Also, I really got the impression that the restaurant existed more to show off all the bear and old-timey stuff than to provide a place for people to eat.

I hesitate to be critical with a business like this, because he's clearly not getting rich from it, and they probably struggle just to stay in business. Being a fellow entrepreneur, I really feel for him.

I think the most constructive thing I can say is that he's got a really bad location. He's like Canada, for goodness sakes, all tucked away down there.

With better pizza, a better location, and a little better advertising (although for where he's at, he does an admirable job telling people he's there), he could probably fill his restaurant once in a while.