Story: Adam Hunt | Photography: Chris Redd
First opened in December of 1973 by Larry Mayhew and Lenny Falcone, Hungry Bear has been an Ocala landmark and fan-favorite. Mayhew and Falcone wanted to open a place that serviced quality food with little impact on the workingman’s pocket. Over the years, businesses around Hungry Bear have come and gone. But Hungry Bear, with its juicy burgers, golden french fries and super thick shakes stood the test of time.
The current owner of Hungry Bear is Linda Williams, who took over the operation in February of 2012. But Linda has been a part of Hungry Bear for more than 20 years. During that time at Hungry Bear, she has filled the roles of short-order cook, fry-gal and master shake maker. I asked Linda, “Does it ever get old?” She smiled and replied, “It’s as much a part of me as it is a landmark for Ocala natives.”
When you pull up to the drive-thru at Hungry Bear and glance at the menu, you can’t help but be reminded of the Robert Southey classic “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” The Burgers on the menu are named after the loveable characters in the fairy tale. Just as Goldilocks sampled the bowls of porridge, you can select the right burger for you. The first burger is a petite size patty of beef – perfect for a small appetite and happens to be Goldilocks’ favorite, the “Baby Bear.”
But for those who want just a little more, there is the “Mama Bear,” a double ¼ lb patty creation layered with cheddar cheese and dripping with goodness. For the hardliners out there, Williams offers the “Papa Bear.” This burger is a larger single ¼ lb patty made for those who know the real deal when it comes to a perfect burger. Finally, if you have a bear-sized hunger, you may want to step it up to the “Grandpa Bear.” This Grizzly Adams’ sized burger is a hunger killer. The doubled stacked ½ lb burger is aimed to please the wildest of appetites. All of the burgers are topped with mayo, lettuce, tomato and onion on a delicious toasted bun.
Hungry Bear also offers a number of delicious sandwich choices. They have the Fried Chicken Sandwich – a southern deep fried classic made to order. For the calorie counters out there, they have a 100% no filler Chicken Breast Sandwich grilled to order. Then there’s the jewel of the sandwich menu, the Fried Pork Loin. But if that doesn’t work for you, just add bacon for a small up-charge, making it even more mouth-watering. The Sandwich menu also has the classic B.L.T., Ham & Cheese and Grilled Cheese sandwiches which you can jazz up by adding either bacon or ham.
Hungry Bear has also bred a unique and mouth watering pedigree of hot dogs. The first is an American original the Ocala classic Hot Dog. The hot dog is topped with ketchup, mustard, onions and relish. For those who prefer the “long hair breeds” of hot dogs, there is the “Slaw Dog,” a delicious combination of finely chopped coleslaw placed on top of a plump, juicy frank.
Another hot dog perfect for those who want a little spice is the “Chili Dog.” Its brother is the “Chili & Cheese Dog,” a smash-up of seasonal favorite. If you don’t like chili there is the extra cheesy “Cheese Dog”… absolutely yummy! My favorite hot dog on the menu is the “Chili Cheese Slaw Dog.” The first time I encountered this beast, I wasn’t ready. I got more of the hot dog on my shirt, than I actually ate.
But what’s a great sandwich, burger or hot dog without a delectable side? I mean, where would Batman be without Robin? Hungry Bear has solved this mystery with the pairing of golden crisp cut crinkle fries to their meaty menu items. You can also choose freshly battered and fried sweet corn nuggets, batter dipped onion rings, and lightly cinnamon dashed sweet potatoes fries. Kids’ meals are also on the menu, offering four piece chicken nuggets, hamburger, cheeseburger or hot dog. This includes one entrée and served with fries and a refreshing 12 ounce soft drink.
Hungry Bear also has the answer for your sweet tooth. They have a great selection of Shakes & Floats designed to fill your tummy. All Floats are made with your choice of soda. The Shakes come in two ways – the thick, mouth-watering original flavors of Strawberry, Chocolate, Cherry and Vanilla. The second option is malted with Peanut Butter and added to any flavor. According to Williams, the only peanut butter they’ve used for the last 30 years is Peter Pan brand. She says the others just don’t cut it!
Hungry Bear, as a business, is very active in the community. They support the Great Strive Walk, ALS and other local groups around the area. On Wednesdays, they lower the price of Shakes to a $1.25 to accommodate the city youth, a commendable gesture during those hot summer months.
So when you find your appetite is “lost in the woods” and you are unsure of where to satisfy your hunger, take a lesson from Goldilocks and head to the Hungry Bear, where your meal will be “just right!” They are located on 420 SE Osceola Ave, near the heart of downtown.