Ray’s Lebanese Cuisine still seeking new home

The future is uncertain for Ray’s Lebanese Cuisine, a Scotia Square food court staple that will be leaving after 31 years.

By Sindi Skenderi

Customers line up outside the Lebanese favourite during lunchtime rush hour
Customers line up outside the Lebanese favourite during lunchtime rush hour. (Sindi Skenderi/ Peninsula News)

Ray Khattar, the owner of Ray’s Lebanese Cuisine, has not found a location to move his beloved fast food joint.

“I am opening up again, of course, because I want to work,” he said.

Khattar has been working out of Scotia Square for 31 years. His last day will be March 28.

He has been searching in the Barrington Street area for a new home for his business. He said the two months’ notice he received to move out from his spot in the Square’s food court did not give him enough time to find the right place.

Khattar said the owners of the property, Crombie REIT, would let him stay in the mall only if Ray’s Lebanese Cuisine moved to the end of the hall, behind the Rent-A-Car kiosk.

“After 31 years, I don’t want to be left over for anybody. My honour and my pride wouldn’t let me go to the end of the mall,” he said.

Khattar moves around his small kitchen, preparing pita sandwiches while talking to the customers, with ease.

After customers launched a petition that was well reported by media companies and newspapers like The Chronicle Herald and The Coast in the beginning of February, Khattar said Crombie REIT called him in for a negotiation on his eviction.

Cheryl Fraser, a representative from human resources at Crombie REIT, said the company communicated with all of the tenants of the food court last June and July, to let them know that they had the “opportunity to participate in the upgrade of the Scotia Square food court and enter into long term leases.”

But Khattar says in his case, an upgrade meant an eviction, and eight months meant two.

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What it means for the Square

Khattar said Crombie REIT was asking for $800,000 a year in sales revenue, along with a rent increase to $14,000 a month, which would be too much.

“Look at the mall. Look at it. It’s empty,” he said at 3 p.m. shortly after the two-hour rush at lunchtime.

During its peak hours, the food court is flooded with customers, the majority of whom wait in a 10 to 15 people lineup in front of Ray’s Cuisine.

Khattar said the new construction coming to the mall will only drive away customers. “How will the tenants make their sales during the two years of construction, with all the banging, dirt and dust?”

Fraser said the upgrade of the food court is part of a larger plan to expand Scotia Square and surrounding properties including the recent upgrades of Barrington Place and Barrington Tower.

No further comment was offered from Crombie REIT on what tenant will take Ray’s place, due to “privacy and market considerations.”

Khattar said the plan is to put a Subway in his place.

But it doesn’t matter to him what happens to the food court: “Once I leave here, I’m not going to step in the mall anymore.”

No changes to food

No matter where Khattar ends up, he says his menu and the prices won’t change.

“People know what Ray’s is,” he said. “It’s $5 and $6 meals that are home cooked daily.

“To put my plates at $10, plus drink, plus taxes, you’re talking about $15, $16. I can’t charge that to you as a customer. My conscience wouldn’t let me.”