We were thrilled when Chef Ray Bear agreed to an interview with us. He is a man of considerable note in Halifax, and a world-renowned chef. He is now also the co-owner of MIX Fresh Kitchen on Salter Street which opened its doors in 2010.
Ray Bear has had a long standing relationship with Halifax, and like all relationships it has had its ups and downs.
We didn’t quite know what to expect when we sat down with him and his business partner Chris Richards. What we got, though, was a fun, insightful, and fascinating conversation with two people who are determined to bring the downtown core of Halifax back to life through great food and memorable experiences.
Our conversation spanned a considerable amount of time, and plenty of different topics, but we finally got Chef Bear to tell us what he thinks is the bee’s knees.
“Definitely the waterfront.” He said that it’s both Halifax’s blessing and its curse, but the waterfront is most certainly one of Halifax’s most important assets. Chris was quick to say that Point Pleasant Park is at the top of his list.
We chatted for some time about the vision for Mix. Ray and Chris wanted to make it clear that Mix is not just about great food and service, but about an experience. They’re selling a great time, not just great meals. Mix’s food is as local and homemade as possible (they even make their own hamburger buns), and its atmosphere can accommodate a night out for drinks with the girls, a first date, lunch with co-workers, or just a quick meal and drinks after work. Somewhere comfortable and hip, with what they hope will become one of Halifax’s best late night experiences.
This vision comes with some context. As you may have heard, Ray and the restaurant named after him, Bear, were steeped in controversy a few years ago. We weren’t sure if Ray would want to discuss this history, but we knew that our interview wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t bring it up. We were impressed to find that he was entirely up for discussing the situation.
“People thought it was just about my ego, but it wasn’t. It was misunderstood. It was a place where I thought we could just say, ‘Okay, let’s do this.'” But things didn’t go as hoped. Afters some public unpleasantness with former business partners and considerable attention in the media, Ray had to walk away from Bear.
But back in Halifax, with a new vision, and a new partner, Mix’s atmosphere makes it clear that this restaurant is not about egos, or individuals, but about the customers. But why start another restaurant in Halifax after what he’s been through before?
“We have a lot of good will here,” Ray says. “There’s lots of love. And this type of place hasn’t been done here before.”
The vision for Mix has been inspired by restaurants in cities like Vancouver and Montreal, to Miami and New York City who offer unique outlooks on where you can take casual dining.
“Mix reflects a desire to have a room you can have dinner in or just hang out in.”
Throughout our interview they continued to stress that Mix is about the experience. The food is good, the service is good, but their ultimate goal is about making it a place people want to spend a lot of time in. But they admit there’s still a way to go to make it all a perfect reality.
“When we first started we dropped all kinds of balls,” Ray says. “But restaurants are never as good or as bad as the reviews say they are.”
They’d never done the level of volume that they’ve had at Mix before, so they know that there’s plenty of room for improvement, and that they’re making this progress everyday.
With plans for a revamped dessert selection and what they hope will be an unrivaled drink menu, they’re certainly not about to settle into a routine. Improvement and constant adjustments are what they’re invested in.
Places like Mix are what we feel Halifax needs more of. We’ve got bars in spades, fine-dining restaurants, and plenty of casual places. But hip, interesting, fun places that have great food, great service, fabulous drinks and a fun atmosphere? Well, there’s always room (and desire) for a place that can deliver on those promises.
We love that Ray Bear is back in action in Halifax. His passion for food and his community are evident. And because of this we think Ray, Chris, and Mix Fresh Kitchen are The Bee’s Knees.