CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On the business cards, he's David E. Reynolds. But absolutely everyone calls him "Bear." He's a large, lumbering man, but there's nothing bearish or gruff about him. He's soft-spoken and big-hearted, low-key, a little bashful. The kind of bear you want to hug.
Regulars love him at the Bear's Den, his cozy bar and restaurant in the basement of the old Daniel Boone Hotel, now 405 Capitol St.
Most of the time, he's back in the kitchen cooking, enjoying the vocation chosen for him by his grandfather who was a chef at the old hotel. He learned to cook 50 years ago, as a teenager.
At lunchtime, people crowd the place to slurp his celebrated soups, especially the chili. Delivery orders pour in from all over.
On this very day next year, Oct. 15, he's bowing out. At 67, he wants time with his grandchildren.
Generally quiet and private, he finally acquiesced to an interview. Maybe the timing felt right.
"The girls called me Teddy Bear. The guys call me Bear. I got my nickname from playing football. I used to growl all the time. A lot of people didn't know my name until I got my business cards. They said, 'Your name is David?'
"I grew up on Wertz Avenue. We called it the hollow. My dad worked for DuPont.
"We had a garden on Dennison Drive all way to Oakridge. That's how far our property went. Our garden looked like a farm. We had cows, pigs and chickens. That's why it doesn't hurt me to work. We all worked in the garden. There were six of us, four brothers and one sister.
"My real mom, I didn't know who she was. She was gone, out drinking and carrying on. I didn't know who my real momma was until I was 16. I thought my stepmom was my momma.
"I had a mean daddy. If you even looked wrong, he would go upside your head. They don't know what child abuse is today. They should have come up when I was coming up. Now you can't whip them with a belt without someone calling the law.
"I guess it was OK. I'm still kicking. I've never been to jail, never been in any trouble.
"I went to Roosevelt Junior High, and I was the only black. It was rough for a while. Lonnie Hicks, I'll never forget him. We were in gym class. You know what he said. I picked up a weight and went upside his head. I'll be your man. I'm nobody's boy. We were friends after that.
"I got interested in cooking because my grandfather, LeRoy Hayes, was a chef here at the hotel. When I was 15, he made me come to work for him. Once I got into it, I loved it, so I've been cooking for 50 years.
"He started me out washing pots and pans. Everything I got, I earned. Back in those days, all you had to do was watch old people and they showed you how to cook and you learned all the recipes.
"The hotel was packed every night. We had President Kennedy one time. The maitre d' would be dressed in a suit with his shoes shined and the chefs had those big hats on. It was nice. We had about four different chefs.
"When I came out of Charleston High, I was working with my grandfather in the kitchen. Minimum wage was like $1.10 or $1.20.
"After that, I went to the Army Navy Club. I'd gotten older and wanted to move on. I was head cook over there. That's where I met Chef [Joseph] Duelli. He showed me a lot.
"I was at the Army Navy Club 11 years. All my jobs, any job I had, I stayed a while. I went to the Charleston House Holiday Inn and worked for Jim Davis and his wife, then to the Elk River Holiday Inn.
"I started back here in 1984 when they remodeled. This was nothing. When they remodeled, they dug all this out. A man said he used to come in here and drink when it was a hotel. He didn't. It wasn't here.