The Black Bear Café – a small business thrives through pandemic

If you have been to St. Joseph Island at all in the past year and a half, then you would have passed the bustling Black Bear Café, located at Kent’s Corner’s.

The Black Bear Café opened in 2019, and quickly became a staple in the community.  The owners, Marylou and Roy Eckmeir, have been able to stay open the entire pandemic. They switched their business model to take-out only when on lockdown, and opening up for limited seating when permitted.

Marylou shares that staying optimistic and adjusting to the constant changes in COVID protocol and customer needs has been the key to the success through the pandemic.

This is the only restaurant on St. Joseph Island that is open 7 days a week, and the locals rely on the Black Bear for a consistent quick bite or a coffee on the run.

The uncertainty of the pandemic has forced every business on the Island to adjust their hours, and many businesses are closed for at least one day out of the week.  Marylou and Roy Eckmeir have kept afloat by constantly being there for the community throughout the lockdowns.

The Black Bear is openly involved in the community, offering anyone who needs a meal, a soup and sandwich, “no questions asked,” says Marylou.

On top of offering meals to anyone who needs, the Black Bear also organized a Santa Claus parade around the Island.  The community could leave food donations at the end of their driveway and Santa would come pick it up and say a socially distanced hello to families.  Through the parade, they collected two truckloads of donations for the foodbank.

When the pandemic first hit in March of last year, Marylou and Roy immediately offered a lay-off to any employees who would feel more comfortable staying home, as an employee at the time, I took the offer of layoff when it was given.

“The staff were crossing over in everything, they were cooking, they were baking, taking food out to cars, taking orders on the phone,” Marylou praised the staff for being quick to adjust to the new pandemic reality.

Next time you make it to the Island, be sure to stop by the Black Bear Café and say hello to the Eckmeirs!  Come for the smiles, stay for the delicious baking!