The story of newly opened MareBear's Cafe (640B S. Academy Blvd., 358-9812) amounts to much more than an approachable everyday menu of breakfast and lunch items. It begins with the eatery's name, a combo of "Mary" and "Barry," explains 45-year-old chef/owner Barry Leak Jr.
The Mary component refers to his wife, who succumbed to cancer in mid July, after a nearly five-year battle that began shortly after they were married.
"People called her 'Mare' and they called me "Bear," so after we got married they just put that together," he says. "We thought, 'that's what we've gotta call the cafe, so it's a part of both of us.' The plan and dream was for the two of us to run it together. She got to see the sign go up and the building come together, but she never got to see it open."
The couple had been traveling together to his home in California's San Joaquin Valley this past May — to visit his father who's also suffering from cancer — when they received a call that Mary's father had suffered a massive heart attack and died suddenly. He liked to paint, and some of his works now hang in tribute at MareBear's along with a photo of Mary and her dad from the Leaks' wedding.
"We've gotta go on and move forward," says Barry, who now employs Mary's mom, Kathy Lawrence, who also picked up Mary's side craft of baking dog treats, which are available to buy at MareBear's. "Barry puts a lot of love into the dishes here, and he does it all in loving memory of Mary," she says, noting a combination of family recipes from both Mary and Barry's grandparents.
One dish that stands out: Grandma Evelyn's Cocoa & Biscuits, made with cocoa gravy, Oklahoma style. "It's something I grew up with as a kid, we ate it any time we stayed with her," says Barry, describing the gravy as "like chocolate pie filling," but thinner, made with butter, and sweet. He doesn't currently have time to bake his own biscuits, but he does whip together the gravy and other accoutrements across the eclectic menu.
Kathy lent her chile verde recipe for a rice bowl, and the former occupant at the address — Meaw Merrell, who retired and closed Thai Eats at the end of March — taught Barry how to make her yellow curry chicken recipe, which is another rice bowl, for yet another legacy touch to the space.
Barry also offers five takes on the classic club sandwich, plus grilled cheese options, salads, several hot dog arrangements, and burgers. Breakfast plates include sandwiches like a waffle sandwich or chicken and biscuit sandwich, plus regular biscuits and gravy with bacon gravy.
As for his chops, Barry left 12 years of call center work to attend Pikes Peak Community College's culinary program, which he hasn't yet completed, but "might someday" if time outside MareBear's allows. He also worked in fast food in several positions, learning the ropes of turn-and-burn service. He's now open from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays.