Bear-y lovable mascot

"HOWDY do dee, little girl?" said the Great Root Bear as he gave two-year-old Nur Liyana Md Yusni a beary "pawshake" while her friends eagerly waited for their turn.

Nur and her friends were at the A&W Drive-In Restaurant in Petaling Jaya in October 1988.

For the last three decades, the huggabke Root Bear, dressed in a furry brown suit and orange sweater, has been enthralling many children by turning up at birthday parties, social gatherings and family day events.

The mascot of A&W, the pioneer American fast food restaurant in the country, first made its appearance in December 1974.

It attracted a large crowd when it showed up outside the A&W outlet in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman - then country's first A&W restaurant - holding a bunch of balloons in one hand and a tray of sweets in the other.

The company's first Malaysian Root Bear was its training officer, Shamsul Ariffin, who donned the costume.

According to the deputy manager of the company then, J.L. Phenix, the design of the costume alone cost RM25,000.

Root Bear, also dubbed A&W's goodwill ambassador, went on a road show in 1977, riding in a trishaw, to visit every A&W restaurant in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.

The company subsequently opened a Bearland playground at he PJ Drive-in outlet in 1990 with activities such as a Magical Maze, The Balance Bridge, The Serpent, Burger Fun Ball game, a merrygo-round and the Devil Tree, as well as a patio area for birthday parties.

The playground, costing RM200,000 and covering 650 square metres, was touted as the biggest A&W outdoor playground in the world. - NST