Table for one |

Table for one

HOMEWOOD – Rusty the Bear is something of a regular at the Old Tahoe Cafe.

Restaurant owner Aliks Mineikis saw the bear again a few days ago, when the garbage was out to be picked up the next morning. He recognized the bear by a black stripe next to its nose – though Mineikis figures Rusty weighs about 80 pounds more than when he saw him the first time.

But he’s not serving bears anymore.

Rusty’s last – and only – meal at the cafe was back in April, about an hour after the restaurant had stopped serving lunch. Mineikis stepped out the back screen door of his restaurant to take the garbage out.

“I was absent for about 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 at the time to be about one and a half years old and weighing 150 pounds – three or four times around a table. Then, Mineikis took his dog away and got the camera.

He watched the hungry bruin get into the strawberry syrup and then crawl around the small restaurant.

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

The bear slugged down some soda, pushing its nose against each nozzle on the machine.

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

The bear made noises like a cat, Mineikis said. The animal didn’t seem bothered that a human snapped shots nearby.

“Then I decided I needed a picture of me and the bear, too,” Mineikis said. He left and returned with a skeptical neighbor, who took a photo from across the room. The restaurant owner said he wasn’t scared, but when he saw the cub’s finger-length claws, he remembered the animal was wild and capable of anything. Mineikis made some noise and got the bear back out in the wild.

He was left with a broken table and quite a tale.

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 the bear needed to be scared, or it would return.

Lo 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.”

After spotting Rusty again on Tuesday, Mineikis said the growing cub looked at least 80 pounds heavier – but didn’t dare come inside.

“Now he understands that this is my territory,” Mineikis said.

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