Ron Slinger from The Black Bear Neighbourhood Pub2017 Publican of the Year
Ask Ron Slinger why he’s been recognized as ABLE BC’s Publican of the Year, and he’ll say, “We’re consistent. We try to do what’s right and we do the best we can.” Keep talking to Slinger, though, and it quickly becomes apparent that it’s really because the owner of North Vancouver’s Black Bear Neighbourhood Pub is, simply, the best of neighbours. And isn’t that what a pub is meant to be? It’s what Slinger calls “the living room of people’s social life.”
Certainly that was what former premier Dave Barrett had in mind when he returned from a trip to England in the 1970s and announced that BC would have a new licensing category for pubs, the kind of place where folks could meet for a beer and a bite of food.
Slinger, for one, thought that was a great idea. He and his partner Dave Raht set about opening the Queen’s Cross Pub in North Vancouver’s Upper Lonsdale neighbourhood, which took a lot longer and a lot more jumping through hoops than he’d expected. “When we opened the Queen’s Cross in 1979, it was a new concept. The whole neighbourhood pub was new,” he recalls.
Nearly 20 years later, Slinger and Raht decided to open the Black Bear in a purpose-built craftsman style home in the parking lot of nearby Lynn Valley Centre. It turned out the application process was just as onerous in 1997 as it was in 1979: Where it took three years to open the Queen’s Cross, the Black Bear took four. “It was still a new concept for some people on council,” he says drily. “You have to laugh or else you’d cry.” The Black Bear opened on February 9,1997.
“I’ve always pushed food as the loyalty builder.”
Right from the beginning, there were two things he knew the Black Bear would do. “We wanted to have a place where women would feel comfortable,” Slinger explains. “And I’ve always pushed food as the loyalty builder.” After all, he points out, “My wife and I have eaten out since the day we were married, and we’ve only been married 46 years.”
Sadly Dave Raht passed away in 2006.
Today food accounts for half of the Black Bear’s business. That proved to be an especially good strategy when changes to the drinking-driving laws cut down on customers’ liquor consumption. “We have a huge responsibility as a licensee,” he says. “We’re dealing with under age and we’re dealing with over service. It’s the shadow over our day-to-day operations. It’s why we work so hard with the community, because we’re part of the community.”
Slinger also sponsors local sports teams and charities. Among them is the North Shore Disability Resource Centre, which he’s supported for years, ever since he sang in a barbershop quartet with a man whose son had been left a quadriplegic in an accident. Impressed by the centre’s work, he decided to throw his support behind it by donating 50¢ from every quesadilla sold.
“We’re pushing $19,000 now. It doesn’t happen overnight, but we have people who come in just to have the quesadilla,” he says. “This is just what I want to do. It’s such a small gesture, but we do it consistently.”
More recently, when a terrible fire raged through a Lynn Valley apartment complex, leaving two people dead, 16 injured, and many others homeless, he decided to hold a fundraiser at the Black Bear. For three days, $15 of every $20 burger and beer sold went to help the victims. “I tell you, word got out,” he states proudly. “I went to trivia night on Monday and I couldn’t even get my regular seat.”
This is not the first time Slinger has been named Publican of the Year. The first time was back in the 1980s when he still owned the Queen’s Cross and had been president of the Neighbourhood Pub Owners Association for three years. Back then, he thought, well, maybe I did things better than I thought I did.
This time, he says, “I was incredibly surprised that I was considered for the honour. And believe me, it’s an honour. I really love the business and I listen to what the customers want.”
The Black Bear is 21 years old now, and plenty has changed in Lynn Valley. For one thing, Slinger has lots of competition these days, so he’s moved to know that his customers are so loyal they’ll even walk down to the pub in winter when drifts of snow have closed the roads.
“That’s a success,” he exclaims.
“I’m part of the neighbourhood. I think the Black Bear is me,” he adds. “That’s what I’ve achieved. And luckily I have fun doing it.”