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Heading to the farm, Ray Bear sells his Halifax restaurant

Studio East restaurant owner Ray Bear, centre, has sold his restaurant to Pratt brothers, Andre and Guy, seen at the restaurant in Halifax, on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019.
Studio East restaurant owner Ray Bear, centre, has sold his restaurant to Pratt brothers, Andre and Guy, seen at the restaurant in Halifax, on Friday. - Tim Krochak

You didn’t have to be that astute an observer of the restaurant scene to figure out that being both full-time farmers and full-time restaurateurs in locations two hours apart wasn’t going to last.

For the last year and a half, Ray Bear and his partner Saronn Pov have been raising animals, growing vegetables and hosting dinners at Kisik Ridge Estate, their farm on the Bay of Fundy, while at the same time running Studio East, their restaurant in Halifax.

But as of Friday, Studio East is owned by Andre and Guy Pratt, in a deal orchestrated by their father Bill, who owns 16 restaurants under the Chef Inspired umbrella.

“We’ve been thinking about this since we bought the farm,” Bear said. “We always had a vision of Studio East growing, maybe multiple locations, but at least in this location.  We wanted to see it get to its peak, however that happens. When we bought the farm and realized our passion at the farm, providing, raising animals and growing food, and the positive impact that had on Studio East, we knew it would be smarter if somebody else ran Studio East.”

The Pratts took over on Friday, but Bear will be on site for a few months to ease the transition.  No staff changes are planned but the place will soon look different. 

"It was a beautiful day on the farm, and I said ‘OK, I think we’re ready to sell.' "

- Ray Bear 

“This is our favourite restaurant in the city, and Ray’s known that since he opened.  We keep coming back here.  I need a succession plan, I’ll be 60 pretty soon and these guys need to learn the business end,” Bill Pratt said of his sons.  “I don’t want to change the menu, what I want to be able to do is elevate the ambiance in here, so we’re going to change the furniture and try to raise the bar on that side of it.  But the food is already up there.  Why would we fool around with that?”

Andre and Guy Pratt have been cooking for eight years, under such chefs as Michael Smith in P.E.I., Jeremy Charles in St. John’s and Rod Butters in the Okanagan Valley.  They returned home to Nova Scotia last week.

Bear said he knew the time had come.

“It was a beautiful day on the farm, and I said ‘OK, I think we’re ready to sell,’ ” he said. “The truth is, we didn’t want to hand it over to just anybody.  Bill and I have been talking for about two years, seeing if we could help each other out or work together. We wanted to be sure nothing suffered at either place.  We just couldn’t do both.”

Bear and Pov don’t own the building that houses the restaurant, so the Pratts are taking over the lease as part of buying the business.

“I’ve said it before, Ray is probably the best chef in the city and I want my sons to learn from him,” said Bill Pratt, who expects his systems to make Studio East even more profitable. “We’re buying all the assets, the goodwill, the name.  We’re buying recipes, the whole thing.  He’s got the recipe book, we’ll start to computerize that. We have better buying power, we have systems in place, accounting systems, I have a purchasing manager, a corporate chef.”

Kisik Ridge Estates will continue to supply the restaurant as part of a new business plan for Bear and Pov.

“We’re going to do dinners at the farm, we’ll continue to farm,” Bear said.  “A lot of collaboration on our part, we want to work with different chefs, and provide our vegetables and our pork to the city.”
 

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