By Kieran Leavitt
The spot where the old Himachi House was on Halifax’s waterfront will be revamped into a new high-end seafood eatery over the next few months.
Halifax native Steve Caryi, a developer and property owner based now in Winter Park, Fla., as well as long-time restaurateur Stephen Risley, are the brains behind the new venture, planned for Bishop’s Landing.
“We don’t have the name yet, but the concept is seafood with an Asian flair,” says Caryi during an interview in downtown Halifax.Caryi owns a few eateries in the city, including the Halifax Club, Ruby’s and Himachi Kita in the North End. He has plans to open a country style restaurant and lounge on Barrington Street as well and has plans for other spots throughout the city.
His team has come up with design plans to completely redo the old building where the Himachi House was. A completely renovated bar and some aesthetic changes are part of the deal, but they’re also expanding the patio with 160 more seats and it will stretch towards the waterfront.
“We’ll have an outdoor bar in the summer time, an oyster bar,” says Caryi.
While he’s excited about the location and planned changes, he acknowledges some of the challenges faced after buying the Himachi House out of receivership after the owners filed for bankruptcy in 2016.
Dealing with a name that’s been associated with bankruptcy can be difficult.
“A lot of people get hurt by (bankruptcy),” said Caryi. “People are aware of the name… the negative connotation.”
But Caryi and general manager Risley remain optimistic for the new venture.
Risley has built up a long resume during his restaurant career, which began in 1978 when he took a job as a dishwasher at the Henry House in downtown Halifax.
Since then, he’s run a significant number of restaurants, including two in Vancouver and some that are still enjoying long-term success today.
Risley says good staff is the key to success.
“I’m looking at creating a team where the whole backbone of the restaurant is that team.”
Risley knows the front and back end functions of a restaurant. He is a cordon bleu saucier, has an associate degree from the University of Guelph, and has taken numerous human resource and serving courses.
He says his vision for the restaurant relies on three keys: full-time Nova Scotian staff who are knowledgeable about the food and wine served; fresh ingredients which are managed carefully; and, an atmosphere that fosters customer confidence in his product.
Perception is everything, says Risley.
“It’s not what we think of this restaurant, it’s what our guests think of this restaurant that is the reality. I can think it’s the greatest place in the world; if you don’t think it’s the greatest place in the world, then it’s not.”
The inside will be completely different than the old Himachi House, says Risley.
Interior designer Denise Stevenson has drawn up an interesting plan for the space.
“(She’s) done just an incredible job with creating privacy without privacy,” says Risley.
There will be screens used so that guests can see out and people watch if they want, but will remain unseen by those outside.
“The effect at night will really be quite something,” says Risley.
Risley hopes to work with local seafood farmers to bring in the freshest ingredients possible. There will also be a sushi bar.
“One of the things I’d love to have is getting our seafood delivery right at the dock,” he says.
“Most of it will be an Atlantic Canada product,” he says, and he hopes to work directly with Nova Scotian farmers to get the freshest deliveries.
As of last week, work has started on giving the old building a face-lift.
Risley and Caryi hope to have their doors open and food on the table by May 1.
They’re excited to be part of the growing restaurant industry which is putting Halifax on the map as a food city.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun down there,” says Risley.