Hungry Bear Drive-In Celebrates 50 years

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Posted December 13, 2023 | By Amy Panaia Davidson

In 1973, when the Hungry Bear Drive-In eatery was built, it was unique in Ocala. And few people at that time gave it much of a chance to succeed.

“This was the first drive-in (restaurant) in Ocala,’’ recalled Larry Mayhew, owner of Mayhew Pest Control and son of Larry Mayhew, the original Hungry Bear owner. “But when they were building it, they kept telling my dad, ‘It’ll never make it.’”

The elder Mayhew’s strategy of cooked-to-order meals served fresh from grill top to customer and delivered in a paper bag, however, would prove to be a winner. The burger eatery, still in the same small brick building at 420 SE Osceola Ave., nestled next to the railroad tracks in historic downtown, just celebrated its 50th anniversary.

“Where can you get fresh food to order these days?’’ Mayhew said. “And it’s been that way since the beginning.”

In 2012, current owner Linda Williams purchased the Hungry Bear from her sister Gladys Bates. Bates had cooked there from day one in 1973 when the Mayhews opened the business, and she took over in 1987, Williams explained.

“When you have good food, it lasts,” she said. “We have customers that when they pull in, we know what to put on. We know exactly what they’re going to eat and drink.”

Williams’ daughter Danielle Mann is employed at a local hospital but helps her mom and mother-in-law during busy times. She worked there after high school and while in college and had her youngest son, now 14, in an infant swing while she cooked and served.

“Our family has been involved with it the whole entire time,” she said. “My grandmother was even in here cooking at one point.”

Referring to her daughter Danielle, Williams said, “She was an infant in a bassinet in here.”

When the Hungry Bear first opened, customers could grab a burger for $1.25. After 50 years, the menu favorites are still the same.

“People are partial to their doubles or their singles, the mama or the papa, but then we have days where everyone orders babies,” Mann said.

The menu is relatively unchanged, but there have been a few additions along the way. There are hand-whipped milkshakes, spicy chicken sandwiches, hot dogs and fried okra.

“Our regular customers are what really keeps us going,” Mann said.

“And there’s so many people who have lived here their whole lives and don’t even know we exist,’’ she added. “They say, ‘I didn’t even know you were here,’ and I tell them, ‘It’s the best kept secret in Ocala.’“


Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Closed Saturday and Sunday

(352) 732-3003

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