Atlanta Classics: Ray’s on the River soon will mark 40 years in Sandy Springs

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Ray’s on the River will celebrate its 40th anniversary early next year.

Founded by Ray Schoenbaum, the restaurant sits on a serene stretch of the Chattahoochee River that is beautifully landscaped, and is near a walking trail, with flowers, shrubs and trees along the bank.

“It’s a very unique location,” Schoenbaum said recently. “The river is just beautiful there, and it’s so wide. If you look to the left, it’s like you’re out in the country somewhere. It’s a place where people can come and relax and enjoy themselves. It’s always been that way.”

Schoenbaum grew up in Charleston, West Virginia, where his father, Alex, founded the Shoney’s restaurant chain in the early 1950s.

“I started out as a busboy and dishwasher at 13 years old,” Schoenbaum said.

After college, Schoenbaum became a Shoney’s franchisee, and then a Wendy’s franchisee.

In 1984, he opened both Ray’s on the River in Sandy Springs and Rio Bravo in Buckhead. He sold Rio Bravo to Applebee’s in 1994, and that ended his franchise days.

Two more Ray’s restaurants also have stood the test of time, Schoenbaum is proud to point out. Ray’s in the City is 30 years old and Ray’s at Killer Creek is 25 years old.

Director of Operations Alex Bebiak has been with Ray’s Restaurants for 12 years. On a tour around Ray’s on the River, Bebiak noted that the company has partnered with Chattahoochee Riverkeeper to help preserve and improve the shoreline.

“The lawn helped us through COVID, when we had to do a lot of outdoor seating,” he said. “We actually took our whole dining room and brought it outside.”

In addition to the bar and restaurant, Ray’s has a pavilion for weddings and private events.

“People go from having their first date here, to getting engaged here, and then they’re getting married here,” Bebiak said.

The most romantic place inside the restaurant is a section of tables for two snuggled against a row of windows facing the river. “Sitting by the window overlooking the river is very, very popular, so it’s a first-come, first-served situation,” Bebiak said. “We can’t take reservations for those seats, because everybody wants them.”

If you enjoy eating at a bar, Ray’s has a sprawling three-sided setup, with views of a grand piano in the lounge.

“It’s a large, classic bar, and we’re big into classic cocktails,” Bebiak said. “We sell a lot of martinis, and the servers shake them tableside. Fine wines are big here, too, so we put our servers through the wine certification program.”

Longtime seafood favorites from the kitchen include Maryland crabcakes, horseradish-crusted grouper and salmon Oscar. On the steakhouse side, certified Angus, hand-cut, wet-aged steaks are offered.

Recently, Ray’s acquired the Grateful Bread in Smyrna and employed the previous owners, who continue to make a variety of baked goods for the restaurant’s popular bread baskets.

“We’ve tried to be a seafood house, which I think we’ve been consistent with,” Schoenbaum said. “We’re still probably 50% seafood and 50% steak. But it was always my concept to just have a nice place for people to come and have a great meal and a great view.”

When it comes to the restaurant business, Schoenbaum’s motto is “consistency is the most important thing you’ve got.”

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“I believe in taking care of the guests first, and maybe they’ll let me make a little bit of money, if I take good enough care of them,” he said.

He added: “Improvements are what we do,” noting that Ray’s on the River is set to be remodeled early next year. “I believe you’ve got to remodel every 10 or 20 years,” Schoenbaum said. “It’s been 18 years since we remodeled the last time.”

“He’s been a restaurateur his whole life,” said Bebiak, who continues to be impressed by the way Schoenbaum remains a force in the business.

And, Bebiak added, “I will say the thing Ray knows is how to take care of his facilities, and how to take care of his people, who will, in turn, take care of the guests.

“We just had a server who retired after 39 years,” he said. “Ray bought her a car for her going-away party. It was a white convertible Mazda Miata. She moved to Florida and drove down in her new car.”

Rays on the River. 6700 Powers Ferry Road NW, Sandy Springs. 770-955-1187,

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