His dad said, “Give them the best you can give them and a fair shake every time. You’ll never go wrong.” Being born into that philosophy has garnered Ray Ressel of Ray’s of Kelso, much success. 2014 is a special year because it marks 10 years for Ray’s in the in the original Farmers and Merchants Bank of Kelso building. It also marks the turning of the golden anniversary or 50 years for the Ray’s family name in the restaurant business.
So what does such a long tradition in the restaurant industry mean for Ray? It means quality first, in both food and service. It means always working and changing to keep up with the current trends in taste. To accomplish such a paramount task, Ray draws on his 20 years experience as a chef. It also doesn’t hurt that he basically grew up in the industry. When he was 12 years old, the family opened Ray’s House of Pizza and Steaks in their family home. When asked what he thought about his home turned restaurant Ray remarks, “I didn’t give it a second thought; I thought it was normal.” Ray started helping the family when he was a young boy and has worked to instill that sense of family into his current operations. Today his grandson can be seen “helping” in the dining room and greeting guests. With a smile, Ray remarks, “He’s been walking around with me since he was a year old, it’s almost like he owns the place.”
Ray and his wife, Cindy, started this endeavor over 10 years ago. He says, “Our real goal was not to open a restaurant. It was to open an arts and crafts store. That’s why all the art is on the wall.” Ray explains that there was a cappuccino area in the store that was popular. He says that all the customers were stopping in and telling him how much they missed his dad’s pizzas and steaks. Laughing, Ray says, “We quickly switched directions!”
And thank goodness they did! Ray and his wife started with the main restaurant and had since expanded to the Whiteford House, the Outdoor Courtyard, and Ray’s Banquet Center and Catering. When asked about the expansion to the Whiteford House Ray says, “We were so busy we were constantly turning people away. I needed a way to expand without damaging the look of the building.” With the outdoor seating, he felt the acquisition of the property next door made sense. Each area offers its own personality to guests while still maintaining the integrity of the dishes that have made Ray’s of Kelso famous.
When asked how he does it, Ray says he enjoys the fast paced environment and the challenge in the kitchen. He likens himself to a more demure Chef Gordon Ramsey when it comes to running the ship. When asked how he manages all the moving parts between the locations he says, “I’ve got a lot of good people!”
When it comes to the fabulous menu, Ray explains that they wanted to bring back a touch of the 60’s and 70’s style with the tableside flambé. He remarks, “You had the N’Orleans and the Purple Crackle but once they were gone nobody was doing it anymore.” He says it’s like any generation cycle, “It all comes back around.” Ray says they are known for his dad’s pizza and all their flambé dishes, especially the Steak Diane and the Bananas Foster.
I was curious about the flambé experience, so I ordered the Steak Diane. All I can say is that it is simply fabulous. The steak melts in your mouth, and the lump crab meat takes it over the top. Dining at Ray’s of Kelso is a full sensory experience. The ambiance has a quiet charm. You are surrounded by interesting artwork in a historical setting. The staff is knowledgeable and attentive, like a well-oiled machine. And the food is just delightful both in taste and in presentation. As I sipped my wine and enjoyed the soft sounds of Michael Buble playing in the background, my day just melted away. Ray’s of Kelso is a truly a great place for a date night, or to unwind after a long day.
as written for iluvlocalplaces.com Nov 2014
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Brandi L. Holder