“Little Bear,” is a fairly common term of endearment, especially for pets and kids. But for chef Jarrett Stieber, the name of his forthcoming restaurant in Summerhill has special significance: it’s also the nickname of his Great Pyrenees dog, Fernando.
It’s hard to believe the now 120-pound, oft-Instagrammed pup dubbed the “Ambassador of Adorable” was just eleven pounds when Stieber and his wife, Hallie, adopted him at seven weeks old from Darby Farms, located outside of Athens.
“He was the size his head is now,” recalls Stieber, who knew the farmers from using their chickens at his popular Eat Me, Speak Me pop-ups.
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“We visited the farm and got to know Fernando’s parents and found the dogs to be incredible,” he continues. “I basically traded a traded free dinner for a puppy.”
After looking over a list of Spanish baby names while drinking beers at Victory (“we got some strange looks from the server,” jokes Stieber), the couple landed on the name Fernando, a nod to the breed’s origins in the Pyrenees mountains that border Spain and France. The large dogs traditionally worked to protect sheep from wolves and other predators.
Now five years old and instantly recognizable due to his massive size, fluffy fur, and piercing blue eyes, Fernando is a bit of a local celebrity.
“I can’t tell you how many times Hallie and I have been sitting outside the pub by our house having a beer, and we’ve heard someone yell “‘Fernando!’” from their car window,” says Stieber.
Even actual celebrities can’t get enough of the dog.
“We’re very used to people asking to pet him, but one day, Hallie was getting margaritas at Bartaco with her brother, and a woman asked to say hi,” he recalls. “Fernando was hamming it up and rolling around and showing his belly, and the woman laid on the ground on the patio cuddling with him for a long time.”
That woman? Scarlett Johansson.
When not charming celebrities, Fernando sticks to his regular routine: Greenies dental treats while his mom and dad drink their morning coffee at Chrome Yellow, lounging on dog-friendly patios at Bread and Butterfly and Poor Hendrix, the occasional sleepover at the Hotel Clermont, and high-fiving strangers.
“More than any other dog I’ve known, he seems keenly aware of time and scheduling,” explains Stieber. “If we try to leave without him at the same time we would normally take him for coffee, he will stand in front of the door and block us.”
Given Fernando’s popularity, Stieber says naming his first brick-and-mortar space after him was a no-brainer.
“It was just a matter of coming up with the correct nomenclature,” he explains. “We settled on ‘Little Bear’ because we’ve called him that his entire life because he does look like a little bear. And I was worried if we called the restaurant ‘Fernando’s,’ people would think it was some kind of red [sauce] pasta joint,” explains Stiber, who plans to continue the whimsical, seasonal approach to food he perfected at his popular pop-ups.
The 30-seat restaurant will officially open on February 26, and Stieber says already its name has really resonated with future diners.
“We have a lot of people who call and say ‘oh, that’s what I call my daughter. I can’t wait to take my little bear to Little Bear.”