History of "The Bear Club" As Told by Mike Raphael
The Bear Club restaurant, one of the finest dining establishments in the area, started out
as nothing more than a little beer joint behind the grocery store built by Michael Eblan
Raphael in 1935. The grocery store stood on the same corner that Jon's Bear Club stands
today, which was across Buttonwillow Avenue from the Raphael family home.
The little place in the back served beer and wine only, and
attracted mainly farmers, farm laborers and other hardworking folks. In 1945 both grocery
store and beer joint were sold to Manuel Jadoon, but in early 1947, three of the Raphael
sons, Albert, Charlie and Mike, went in together to buy it back. The three Raphaels owned
and operated the establishment until the fall of 1948, when it was sold to "Red
Gaylord. In 1949, Mike Raphael Sr. rented the land behind the store to a Carnival for the
winter. A man working for the carnival painted a beautiful picture of a bear, which Red
bought. The Bear being the state animal he decided to name the bar "The Bear
Club". We have no idea what happened to the picture.
Mike Jr. and his wife Evelyn took over the bar in May of
1952. 1953 saw the grocery store close, but the newly named "Bear Club"
continued to thrive. It was in May of that year that Willard Duddy, a Reedley High School
classmate and fellow "Sailor" became a partner. The Bear Club obtained a license
to sell hard liquor and began to serve food for the first time. At that time it was a
legal requirement to for all establishments selling hard liquor to also serve food. They
started the menu with just sandwiches.
In 1963, the Salwasser Manufacturing Company, which was
located just to the west of the Bear Club, decided that it was going to expand its
operations and would need the entire corner lot. The Bear Club made plans to build across
the street; about where Brooks Ranch is now. After reviewing their plans, Salwasser
decided they needed more room and moved further down the street. After the move, the Bear
Club increased the menu to three entrees: a peda burger, club steak and shish kebab. By
1966 things were going so well they decided to double the menu to six entrees.
The next big change occurred in 1972, when the new shopping
center came to town and bought the property on which the Bear Club had moved. Once again,
the owners made plans for another move, back across the street to the original corner.
About this time, Mike Raphael met a young chef named Jon Koobation, who was working at the
Dinuba Ranch Restaurant. The owners had been planning a full service restaurant for some
time but were looking for the right chef. When Jon became available, he was hired on the
spot as was his wife Deanna, as a waitress. Jon was invited to design the kitchen of the
new Bear Club to suit his needs. The necessary license was issued and in April 1973, the
Bear Club became a full -fledged restaurant which meant that families and their children
could now also enjoy it. Once Jon joined the staff, the food service took off in a really
big way. The menu was enlarged and a catering service was added. Through the 70s and mid
80s the restaurant established itself as a fine steakhouse with friendly service.
In November 1985, the Duddy/Raphael partnership sold the
Bear Club to their chef Jon and Deanna Koobation. Because he was the chef, Jon took the
job, he knew the Bear Club was going to be successful as a full service restaurant both
because of it's past success and its would fill a need in the community. Loyal employees
are one of the qualities that have made Jon's Bear Club successful over the years. It is
this kind of consistency that few area restaurants can rival. Jon's Bear Club has a very
loyal clientele through its history; advertising has been by word of mouth from satisfied
customers. One has to wonder how many hundreds of birthdays, anniversaries and other
special occasions have been celebrated here over the years and how many will be celebrated
in the years to come.....
On April 8th, 1998, five guest chefs were invited to create
a dining celebration for the restaurant's 25th Anniversary at
this location. The "Black Tie" affair raised $15,000.00 for Winners on Wheels. A
children's wheel chair foundation founded by Jon's sister, Marilyn Hamilton.