The Saratoga Sun -

Changing of the guard at Bear Trap

 


A run of eight and a half happy but hectic years managing the Bear Trap Cafe in Riverside is coming to a close for Seattle-native Margaret Weber. Weber has scheduled one last last blow-out “Dukes of Hazard” themed party for the night of Aug. 31, then she will hand over the keys to new-owner Jolene Pavelka the following morning.

Weber experienced a wide range of emotions while describing the transition process in a recent interview. “Although it’s been a very good 8½ years, it’s been a very long 8½ years,” she summed up. More colorfully, Weber said the job had made her “want to wring everybody’s neck.” Moments later, she said “I love the Bear Trap and I’m absolutely going to miss it.” It was tough to tell which sentiment, if either, was more sincerely felt by the entrepreneur.

Weber said her sale of the Bear Trap does not auger a departure from the Valley. She spoke of falling in love with the area as a young woman working at A Bar A Ranch and said that love had not faded. Though Weber headed back to the West Coast after her A Bar A stint, about a decade later she returned to the Rockies. “I got sick of traffic and the cost of living and realized that every time I wanted to take a vacation I wanted to come here–so that’s kind of what it boiled down to,” Weber said.

Unsolicited, Weber made an offer on the Bear Trap in late 2007, and by April of 2008 she was at the helm. Weber said she felt it fitting that Pavelka had approached her in the same way, submitting a bid for the cafe even though the Bear Trap wasn’t formally on the market.

Meeting people, “whether they’re hiking the Continental Divide, or riding their bikes or motorcycles, or they’re just traveling with their families,” is something Weber said she will miss. Weber likewise spoke wistfully of “being able to walk out of my living room and see the bar full of locals having fun.”

More than anything, though, Weber said she will miss the theme parties she has become famous for in the Valley. “Ugly Sweaters” and “Back to the Future” were two of her all-time favorites, and she hopes to continue the tradition in one way or another. “You get these ranchers wearing ugly sweaters who are usually so full of bravado, but they’re ok with looking silly at a party–that’s what I love,” she explained.

Weber said it will be tough to let the business go, but she sounded confident that it was passing into good hands. As a local resident, Weber said she expects to come in regularly to buy beer, “but I don’t want to come in looking over (Pavelka’s) shoulder or judging what she’s doing.” It will be a relief, Weber continued, to “Come in as a patron and spend my money and enjoy myself instead of worrying about the kitchen and worrying if the server’s ok and if the bartenders are too busy.”

Outside of one dish washer, Weber said most of the staff was heading towards new horizons as well. “I’ve been very fortunate to have had a core group of very, very good and very loyal employees,” she said.

Asked what advice she would offer Pavelka as she takes the reigns, Weber stressed the importance of dedication and commitment. “You just have to keep doing it and work as many kitchen shifts as you need to and work as many dish shifts as you need to,” Weber said. “Don’t get discouraged with the little things,” Weber recommended. She said high turnover was one of the biggest challenges she had faced as a business owner, and that long days are par for the course when replacing or training new workers.

As for next steps, Weber said “In an ideal world I could get on with one of the food service purveyors and do food sales, but I think I’m going to wait until spring to do that.” After 26 years in food service and hospitality, Weber said she will be available for catering over the winter holidays, but mostly, she will spend the next few months focused on traveling, relaxing and decompressing. Though somewhat uncertain what comes next, Weber described herself as “Absolutely out of the restaurant business.”

Having owned the Bear Trap all this time Weber said, “I feel very comfortable in saying I’ve put my stamp on this and I’ve done about all I can do and it’s time for a new set of eyes and some new creativity. Let’s see where this can go.” The Bear Trap, Weber said, is “a crazy business with lots of ups and downs and if the ups can exceed the downs, you’re doing ok. That’s how I look at it–that’s how I’ve always looked at it.”

Those who want to experience one more crazy “up” in Riverside should get decked out in their most outlandish Dukes of Hazard costumes and head to the Bear Trap 6 p.m. Aug. 31. “Inventory reduction pricing” will be in effect at the event, and door proceeds will be donated to cancer patient Josh Rauterkus.

“Give me a week and I’ll be very sad,” Weber said. Not Wednesday night, though.

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