Reinventing the B&B Experience: The Arnold Black Bear Inn

Arnold Black Bear Inn Top Chef Challenge

Forget Bed and Breakfast, it’s Bed and Dinner for This Inn

Bruce and Wendi Davison had been dreaming about running an inn for more than a decade when they landed on the Arnold Black Bear Inn. And despite looking up and down the West Coast for the right space, it couldn’t have been more serendipitous that they ended up in Calaveras County–it’s here where the couple’s idea for owning an inn first sprung. And while breakfast (a gourmet one at that) is definitely part of the package, it’s Black Bear Inn’s custom dinners and foodie-inspired events that will have you rethinking your B&B options. In fact, let’s not even call them that at all.

We recently sat down with the Davison’s, who took home the Calaveras Visitors Bureau’s 2013 Innovations in Tourism Awards Business of the Year honors, to talk about the Black Bear Inn experience and what makes it such a great getaway. Read more…

Has opening an inn always been something you’ve both wanted to do?

Wendi: It was our dream for more than 10 years. We stayed at B&Bs a lot and we would always think, “What would we do differently?”

Bruce: I was actually living in Canada when we were dating and Wendi took me to the Victoria Inn, which was (then called) the Red Bud Inn, in Murphys. That was our very first B&B back in ’97, and it was from that day forward we kind of said, “This is what we want to do.” So we worked hard for over 10 years to get to that point.

Wendi: To end up back in this county was unbelievable. It was not the plan. So when we ended up buying the place…I couldn’t believe it. This is the place where we sort of started. Chatom was the first wine club we ever joined. And now they’re our featured winery. It’s just kind of full circle.

Bruce: Yeah, it’s kind of crazy because we looked in the Pacific Northwest, the San Juan Islands off of Seattle, Oregon and California, and when we found this place, it had everything we were looking for.

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That was the next question. How did choose Arnold for your business?

Bruce: It was the facility. It had everything we were looking for. There was no compromising at all. Every one of the other places we looked at, about 15 or so, there were compromises on every single one of them. This was the one that we absolutely fell in love with. It had to have the wow factor. And when you come in here, people go, “Wow.” We just love this place. It’s really unique. You asked about Arnold. Arnold was really the bonus. It’s a different feel—the topography, the trees, everything. It actually reminds me more of British Columbia than it does California. So that’s just the icing on the cake. We just love this area.

Tell me about Arnold Black Bear Inn. What makes it special?

Wendi: Bed and dinner was always our concept. Custom dinners are available to the guests. They have a private table. They’re not rushed. It’s a 3-5 course meal. They have their wine and then they can just walk to their room. That’s that experience that we never found.

Bruce: And it’s all custom so we talk to them about their likes, dislikes, and we collectively build a menu together.

And you’re a professionally trained chef, right Bruce? How else does that play into what you offer your guests?

Bruce: Yeah, that’s really what sets us apart from a lot of similar businesses—the food. We get a lot of foodies that come up from the Bay Area. They come for the food and the experience as much as anything else. The wine pairing dinners we do, cooking classes, different things that others don’t—a lot of people are looking for that experience.

Tell me about your recent Top Chef Challenge.

Bruce: It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years. The first challenge we came up with was a seafood challenge. We picked a couple of local chefs, Kris Fichtner and Dave Ingram, which we’ve experienced both here and at other events. They’re both good people and I knew they’d play nice in the kitchen. It was 5-courses for each chef. The first course was an amuse-bouche, and the first protein was a day boat scallop. They could do whatever they wanted with it. The next course was a soup course. We brought in fresh, littleneck clams. The next course was a salad course and we had fresh calamari. The next course was lobster tail and the final course was fresh Chilean sea bass. We had 24 guests, who were all judges. Everyone judged every plate. And it was just amazing to see the chefs’ creativity and interpretation on all of those courses.

Arnold Black Bear Inn Top Chef Challenge

Wendi: It was a package weekend for the guests that stayed here and then we had 14 locals. It was incredible. We do a lot of events. It’s definitely become our niche. We do birthday parties, anniversary parties. We’ll set up a private wine tasting here for a group. We’ll organize a snowmobiling trip. Whatever they want, we will do it.

What’s your favorite season at the inn?

Wendi: The summers up here are beautiful. The town is so alive. There’s so much to do. There’s Concerts in the Park, and all the different festivals. It’s endless. They could stay here for 10 days and do something different every day.

Bruce: But we’ve grown to absolutely love the winters. We love the snow. It’s a magical time.

Black Bear Inn Winter

Bruce:  You don’t have to go over a pass to get here, which is a huge benefit. You don’t have the traffic like 80 and 50 going to Tahoe. So it’s kind of nice to come up and you can go to whatever snow level you want. It’s easy to get to the inn here because they take such good care of the roads, and if this is enough snow, then great. If they want more snow, the further you go up the road the more there is, so it’s kind of neat.

What’s the number one thing you recommend your guests do when they’re here?

Bruce: The Big Trees. You just have to. We get people from all over the world and we ask them what brings them here, and it’s the park. It’s that grove of trees. It’s a special place.

Wendi: And it’s year-round. You can snowshoe through there in the winter and it’s amazing.

Bruce and Wendi Davison recently received the Calaveras Visitor Bureau’s 2013 Innovations in Tourism Business of the Year award. You can find out more about this unique Arnold, CA lodging option at:


Photos: Gold & Dust Studios and Arnold Black Bear Inn