Q&A with Tessa Jones, co-owner with Steve Heninger, Bear Country Inn

Steve Heninger and Tessa Jones

You are coming up on your 5th anniversary as owners of the Bear Country Inn. How has the experience been so far?
Time flies when you’re having fun! This has been a very rewarding experience. Yes, some obstacles got in the way for a while, but that’s normal for any business, whether it’s an established one or just starting out. Steve and I have made life-long friends and have been well received as a business for the community and surrounding area.

Did you have a vision of what you wanted to update or change when you first bought the business? How much have you been able to accomplish thus far?
When I first saw the state of disrepair the building was in, I admit it was rather overwhelming. But I was confident it could be fixed up, and I was prepared to do whatever was needed. The business and look of the building have far exceeded anything I could have ever imagined being able to accomplish. I have learned over the past few years that “When God closes a door, He will open a window (or many) with a view that far exceeds anything you could have imagined.”

Bruno

Can you describe the Bear Country Inn to people who have never been there and why it is a great place to stay?
Bear Country Inn is owned/operated by Steve and Tessa, who will make you feel welcome from your first step into the building. Guests continually comment on our high standard of cleanliness in the rooms, and how comfortable the beds are and of how well maintained the place is. It’s a home away from home, and maybe even better than home. We make our own bread for all the items on our menu, and welcome all allergies and food sensitivities.

When is your busy season?
Bear Country Inn is busy all year-round. There really isn’t a slow season. The busiest time though is the hunting season. If we don’t have a room available for hunters they still come to eat and love to “hang out” with other hunters in the lounge that Steve has made into a Hunter’s Lounge. The full-size bear mount, many animal heads and sheds on the walls make for great conversation.

What is the “must try” item on your menu at the Hungry Bear Café and Bakeshop?
We have definitely put Wanham on the map for our donuts and pizzas. Our Indian Taco and Homemade Wraps are very popular also. Victoria is our kitchen helper, and she makes all our soups from scratch, and they are enjoyed by everyone who tries them. She has a natural flare for flavouring anything she makes, and the customers know that if Victoria made it it’s going to be delicious.

Are you the home of the Potato Donuts? Should they have a warning label that they are addictive? Where does the recipe come from?
When I had a bakery in southern Alberta before moving up north, I added potato to the donut recipe to make Spudnuts. Here though it was less confusing to just call them donuts, so I kept the same recipe but leave out the potato. They are just as tasty and addictive though. The recipe I use for the donuts is the same used for our pizza crusts, cinnamon buns and bear paws. It’s a sweet dough recipe given to me when I moved from another province. Suddenly the recipe I had used there for all my farmer’s market baking wouldn’t work in southern Alberta. Our bread is made from the same recipe without the eggs and less sugar.

What first attracted you to the area, and what have you discovered about it since living here?
My first attraction to the area was the business. I had baked for farmer’s markets over 20 years, had a bakery/cafe for four years after that, and was housekeeping manager at a large resort in Waterton National Park for a long time. So, I was confident in my ability to turn the motel and cafe into a better place. The alcohol part of the lounge has been a new experience though, since I’m not personally a consumer of alcohol. It’s been fun learning that part of the business, and I love when groups come in to enjoy the atmosphere and have some good food and drinks together. We’ve had many fun gatherings in the past five years. I love the beauty of northern Alberta, and when my grandkids come to visit, they love kayaking and adventuring to as many places as we can fit into their visiting time. They sleep much of the long drive home since they are so exhausted from all the fun adventures we find up here.

Has Bruno always been a part of the Inn, or did you bring him? Has the business always had a bear theme?
Bruno was brought to life last fall by Randy Gauthier in Chetwynd, BC. Steve wanted a bear carving that guests could take their picture with. So, Randy created Bruno.

Where do you see your business in, say, five years or so?
We have plans to continue upgrading and beautifying the building over the next several years. We will continue to add to our menu items and just enjoy being together and enjoy all the fantastic people who live in the area.

When you are not working, what can you be found doing?
We both work many hours at the business, but we do find some free time to enjoy life together too. I enjoy participating in long-distance running and cycling events, whether virtually (especially this past year) or travelling to events. Steve is a great supporter of my “hobbies” and continually reminds me that I can achieve whatever I set my mind to. When he’s not fixing or inventing something for the business, or helping someone else fix something of theirs, Steve can often be found in fun conversation with our customers and friends. Everyone loves when he sits with them and visits. He’s the kind of guy everyone loves as soon as they meet him, and he makes everyone feel at ease in his presence. He has so many stories from his life experiences that you’ll never hear the same story twice. But if you did, it would still be as interesting as the first time it was told.

Contact:

  • Location: 4403 50 Street, Junction 49 and 733
  • Phone: (780) 694-3889
  • E-mail: bci.wanham@gmail.com