You can tell a lot about a place from the people who frequent it. Whether it is the employees who work hard to create something that they’re proud of or the customers that return because there is something that they enjoy, each person gives a little bit of themselves to the place, turning it into what it ultimately becomes.
While the outside of Ray’s 3rd Generation Bistro Bakery, a small building located at 1475 Queen St. in Alton that looks as if it came straight out of another time, might not catch your eye immediately, you’ll be drawn in instantly by the tangible atmosphere the second that you walk through the bright and welcoming little red door. Between the people – staff and patrons alike – happily bantering as only old friends can, and the delicious aroma of spices and fresh baking wafting through the open kitchen, you’ll know that you found yourself exactly where you want to be.
Now, Ray’s 3rd Generation Bistro Bakery looks as if it is from another time because it is; there has been a bakery there since the 1930s. In those days, it was run by the Woods family, who ran the bistro through two generations before they sold it to Gavin and Vera Ray, the grandparents of the current owner, in 1966. Gavin and Vera held onto Ray’s until 1987, when their daughter and son-in-law, Dale and Donna Perkins bought it, and Ray’s began to see the first of its slow but steady changes. As the world had shifted away from buying their daily bread from the local bakers, Ray’s needed a new angle, which is why Dale and Donna introduced pocket sandwiches, donuts and more ‘takeout’ options – which brought Ray’s a little closer to what it is today.
In 2008, current owner Jason Perkins (our 3rd generation of Rays for those who are following) bought the place; fresh from a job at The Belfountain Inn, Jason had a vision that he could do something similar in the bakery that he grew up in. So, he dug out his barbeque, brought it out front and started serving! Renovations, of course, were necessary – no one can run a restaurant on butane gas and a convection oven forever – and in May 2009 the “Bistro” portion of Ray’s 3rd Generation Bistro Bakery was born!
Defined by their chalkboard menu, the offerings at Ray’s do change from time to time, but there are some staples that you’ll always be greeted with, such burgers, chicken parm, and their delectable leg of lamb. Jason, who enjoys cooking proteins, game and rich French sauces, also made the point of mentioning their Bolognese which is always made with beef tenderloin trim, ground in house to be made fresh in their delicious tomato sauce. Ray’s 3rd Generation might have started out with a focus on primarily French and Italian cooking, but the menu has expanded over the years, with something new being added after every trip Jason takes, as he always comes home eager to try his own personal spin on the great food he’s experienced abroad. COVID might have slowed down the expansion of ‘exotic’ offerings, however it has caused changes of its own to be made to the menu. For example, warm and easy comfort food, such as lasagne and spare ribs have found their way onto the menu over the last few months as Ray’s worked to adapt with the times.
While consistent, high quality food is important to any restaurant – and something that Ray’s has in spades – it always comes back to that atmosphere, which no one else can come close to. Warm, cozy and filled with great local music (band nights are typical Saturday evenings), Ray’s 3rd Generation Bistro Bakery is the casual fun place that you go to see old friends, make some new ones and have a great time.
Better yet, if you’re having so much fun at Ray’s 3rd Generation and you don’t want it to end, now it doesn’t have to! They’ve recently expanded into the building next door, transforming it into an Airbnb, where their guests can enjoy the tranquility of beautiful Alton, and the magic of Ray’s delectable cooking three meals a day until it’s time for them to go home!
So, if we go by what we said at the beginning, that it is the people who make the place, then you can’t find people like those at Ray’s anywhere else – and if you don’t believe me, you’ll just have to make the trip to Alton and see for yourself.
Written by: By Jillian Kent | Photography: Cory Bruyea