Bears Den restaurant, featured on TV show Fargo, set to close after 14 years

Bears Den restaurant is set to close at the end of January after 14 years serving the Calgary and Bearspaw communities.

Manager blames economic environment, NDP policies for closure

Bears Den restaurant, located in the community of Bearspaw just northwest of Calgary, is set to close after 14 years in business. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Bears Den restaurant is set to close at the end of January after 14 years serving the Calgary and Bearspaw communities.

"It's been a challenging economic environment to work in," Scott Winograd, the general manager and co-proprietor of the Bears Den, told CBC News Sunday.

Winograd blames recent policies enacted by Alberta's NDP government for the upscale establishment's downfall. 

"Our product and service are absolutely fantastic," he said. 

Bears Den general manager Scott Winograd says the restaurant is shutting its doors after 14 years. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

"We were doing well, but then all these changes came down," he added, citing the minimum wage increase, carbon tax and changes in labour laws that require workers to be paid for statutory holidays whether they work or not.

Winograd said that means paying $28,000 per year in labour costs for days when the restaurant isn't even open. 

Bears Den is located 500 yards from Calgary's city limits, in the small community of Bearspaw. It took four years to build the sprawling 150-seat restaurant that sits on three acres of land, Winograd said.

Diners at the restaurant can enjoy a $44 local rib-eye steak, while taking in the cozy, mountain lodge atmosphere — surrounded by roaring stone fireplaces and walls of cherry wood carved with depictions of local wildlife. Chandeliers glitter overhead, hanging from a 16-foot-high ceiling.

The restaurant relaunched in recent years, with a new menu that features produce from local farms, honey from the business' beehives and food from the restaurant's in-house garden.

Last spring, Bears Den was featured in FX's crime drama Fargo.

Winograd said he can't justify raising prices 20 to 30 per cent to compensate for the increased cost of running the business.

"The government has made it next to impossible for small businesses to survive in this environment just when we're starting to turn a corner," he said.

"I know the intention is to help the workers, but if businesses are closing and there's no jobs, that doesn't help anybody."

Labour Minister Christina Gray said it's unfortunate that Bears Den will be shutting its doors, but it's important to ensure staff can pay their bills, too.

"The increase to Alberta's minimum wage helps ensure that the servers and kitchen staff who put food on our tables when we enjoy a night out can also afford to put food on their own tables," Gray said in a statement.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci said the recession hit some businesses hard.

"We're coming out of a two-year recession and it was tough on all business. Regrettably, there are some that haven't made it. But we're through the recession now. We're into recovery and things like retail sales and restaurant sales are up after stagnating a bit," Ceci told CBC News at the opening of a small business in Calgary on Saturday. 

"There are many factors that make a business successful, and one factor isn't really fair to pick out. There is a failure rate for businesses, small and large, every year, but new businesses do start up."

Statistics Canada figures show restaurant receipts in Alberta climbed from October 2016 to October 2017, with growth of 4.3 per cent. 

Total receipts in October were $780 million, down slightly from the month before.

In September of last year, ATB Financial looked at earlier figures from Statistics Canada and said the increases — then a new record of $766 million — were due to an improving economy. 

"That includes the stabilization in energy prices and improving labour market conditions," reads the statement. "Over the last 12 months, Alberta's economy has added more than 35,000 jobs, and wages are also starting to improve after sliding for a couple of years. All of the above has likely instilled consumer confidence."

All 26 staff at the Bears Den will be laid off when the business closes on Jan. 28.

With files from Terri Trembath