Table for one | SierraSun.com

Table for one

Karen McIntyre
Sierra Sun
Courtesy PhotoRusty the bear seats himself in the Old Tahoe Cafe.
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Aliks Mineikis will not be feeding bears anytime soon.

About 10 weeks ago, the owner of the Old Tahoe Cafe in Homewood stepped out the back screen door of his restaurant to take the garbage out about an hour after the restaurant had stopped serving lunch.

“I was absent for like four minutes,” he said.

Mineikis saw his poodle run inside the building. He followed the dog, noticing that garbage cans had been knocked over inside. Both of them stood there shocked to see their late customer – a baby bear sitting in a booth ready for a meal.

The poodle chased the bear ” which Mineikis estimated to be about one and a half years old and 150 pounds ” three or four times around a table. Then Mineikis took his dog away and got his camera.

Mineikis watched the hungry animal get into the strawberry syrup and then crawl around the small restaurant.

“It was sticky fur all over the tables,” he said.

The bear then proceeded to drink some soda, pushing its nose against each nozzle on the machine.

“Basically he tried everything,” Mineikis said. “He didn’t like ketchup though.”

The bear made strange noises like a cat, Mineikis said. He was scared, but didn’t seem bothered that a human snapped shots nearby.

“Then I decided I needed a picture of me and the bear, too,” he said.

Mineikis left and returned with a skeptical neighbor, who took a photo from across the room. The restaurant owner said he wasn’t scared, but once he saw the finger-length claws on the cub, he was reminded that the animal was wild and capable of anything. Mineikis made some noise and got the bear back out in the wild, left with one broken table, but many great photos.

After learning that the bear was a regular troublemaker in the area, and named Rusty by some neighbors, Mineikis called the BEAR League.

A BEAR League representative told Mineikis that the bear needed to be scared, or it would return.

Low and behold, little Rusty returned the very next day, staying outside the building this time. Mineikis and his wife, Julija, made lots of noise, but the cub didn’t seem phased. So Mineikis shot the baby about three times with his paintball gun.

“He was running like a race horse,” he said. “There was pink paint on his butt.”

Rusty still returns to the cafe, but usually at nighttime. Mineikis said he saw the bear Tuesday, when the garbage was out to be picked up Wednesday morning. He recognizes the bear by a black stripe next to its nose. Mineikis said the growing bear looked at least 80 pounds heavier this week, but the animal didn’t dare come inside.

“Now he understands that this is my territory.”