Dawn and David Bain are ready for retirement, but rather than plop a for-sale sign on their popular Sierra Vista restaurant, the couple is paying it forward.

The Bains are holding an essay contest. The prize: their restaurant, The Outside Inn.

“If I could do something and pay it forward to someone who would never have the opportunity in their life, I thought that was kind of the win-win situation all the way around,” said David Bain, a 56-year-old father of two.

The writer of the winning essay gets the 2,000-square-foot restaurant, the land it sits on, the kitchen equipment, the dining room furniture, pictures on the walls, silverware, plates and cups and any food left in the pantries, freezers and refrigerators.

The cost: $125 per entry, and the couple is limiting the entries to no more than 7,500.

“My wife and I are kind of unconventional types,” said Bain, who has run The Outside Inn, 4907 S. Arizona 92, with his wife for 23 years. “This is not a scam. We just want to help somebody and change someone’s life for the better.”

The Bains have been considering the essay contest for several months and posted the first notice at the end of August at theoutsideinnblog.wordpress.com, where you will find the entry form and contest rules.

But the contest is just officially launching. Writers must be 18 years or older and the winner would be required to pay any taxes, including income and real estate, once they take ownership, according to contest rules.

Entrants are asked to answer the question — “Why I want to operate my own restaurant” — in 200 words or less. No where in the essay should the writer identify themselves. Entries must be postmarked by April 30, 2017, and judging could begin at the end of May.

According to rules posted on the contest website, judges will winnow the entries to 100, then an independent panel of judges will bring that number to 20 finalists before determining a winner.

The winner will then have 30 days after he or she is notified to let the Bains know if he or she will accept the prize, which Bain on the website estimated is worth $400,000 for the land and restaurant equipment alone. If the winner opts out, the first runner-up gets the restaurant.

The Bains moved to Arizona from Colorado in 1989 and operated a restaurant with partners along Tempe’s busy Mill Avenue college district. Two years later, the couple sold out to their partners and moved to Sierra Vista, where they opened The Outside Inn in 1993 in a converted home that dated back to the 1960s.

The restaurant serves a French-inspired menu that includes Australian rack of lamb, veal piccata, broiled lobster tail, chicken Bolognese, ratatouille gratiné, and several seafood and steak dishes. Its lunch menu includes soups, salads and sandwiches.

Its crowdsourcing reviews on sites including Yelp and TripAdvisor are mostly positive; many of the reviewers seem genuinely surprised to see a fine-dining restaurant in the town of less than 50,000 that’s anchored by Fort Huachuca.

Bain said the essay winner doesn’t need to keep the menu or the restaurant’s theme. In fact, they can do with the property as they wish so long as it complies with county zoning laws, he said.

The Outside Inn has earned positive marks from the Cochise County Health Department, which awarded the restaurant an “excellent” rating after its September inspection, according to county records.

Bain said he and his wife, who is 60 and has experienced some recent health problems, want to spend more time with their daughter, who lives in Tucson, and son, who resides in Las Vegas.

“This has been a marvelous, wonderful ride for us for a long time. We have done very well financially; we have no regrets,” he said.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com or 573-4642. On Twitter: @Starburch

I cover music for the Arizona Daily Star.