The closed Wagner's Barbeque II at Dawson Road and Meredyth Drive will be the site of a new drive-thru and outdoor-eating restaurant by Stewbos Group, which operates five in Albany. The restaurant was to have been named after the Arctic Bear restaurant that closed in 1995, but a disagreement among the children of the co-founders of the original Arctic Bear led Stewbos to go a different route on the name. (Staff photo: Laura Williams)
ALBANY —The Stewbos Group is moving ahead with plans for a new drive-thru restuarant at 2408 Dawson Road, but don’t expect to see a piece of Albany-style Americana spinning above it.
It won’t be called the Arctic Bear.
Bo Henry, co-owner of Stewbos with Stewart Campbell, said Tuesday afternoon that trying to revive the name of the once popular Albany eatery wasn’t worth the strife it was causing in the family of the original Arctic Bear’s co-founder, the late Norton Johnston.
“We’re carrying on with our original plan,” Henry said. “We’re going to unveil what we’re going to do in the next couple of weeks.
“We didn’t start out talking about doing the Arctic Bear. We had a concept and we kept looking at the sign and thought it fit together.”
But the businessmen couldn’t get the blessing of all of the Johnston family. Initially response from local members of the co-founder Clarence Johnston family was positive, but Norton Johnston’s children who live out of town said they weren’t aware of the plans to revive the spinning bear licking a giant ice cream cone that shined a neon glow above the original restaurant at Slappey and Oglethorpe boulevards for 45 years before its closing in 1995.
Norton Johnson, who died last year, donated the sign to the Thronateeska Heritage Center.
“We decided it was just for a name and to cause strife in a family where some wanted it and some didn’t, there was just no reason for us to cause a family argument over a name,” Henry said. “We sure didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes.”
“While recreating a part of Albany’s history generated a ton of enthusiasm in the community, we were more interested in doing the right thing,” Campbell said.
The soon-to-be-named drive-thru, located at the site of the former Wagner’s Barbeque II at Dawson Road and Meredyth Drive, will have outdoor seating and walk-up service as well. It will become Stewbos’ sixth restaurant. The group owns the Harvest Moon, The Catch Seafood Room & Oyster Bar, Henry Campbell’s Steakhouse, Merry Acres Restaurant and Manor House Pub at Merry Acres Inn. Stewbos also owns the Merry Acres Inn and Event Center.
Campbell and Henry said that their latest venture will establish an imaginative, fun and family-centric restaurant brand that will creatively embrace Albany’s history.
“It’s going to be fun,” Henry said of the restaurant that will feature burgers, hot dogs and milk shakes. “We’ve spent time on it and we’ve tried tons of products. We want to get just the right beef and the right hot dog.
“I think it’s going to be really cool.”
Henry said the restaurant won’t be a revival of any other former eatery steeped in Albany history. It will, however, pay homage to some of them.
“We’re going to pay more of a tribute to the old restaurants with old pictures and such,” Henry said. “But we’re not going to name it after any of them.”
Henry and Campbell have not set an opening date for their newest venture, nor a date for revealing the new name.
“We want to have everything ready,” Henry said, “logos and everything.”
He said the announcement on the name should be coming in a few weeks.