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Chef Ray Mackey, owner of The Bunt Hut.

Are you ready for The Bun Hut?

ASHEBORO — Tired of winter with its cold temperatures and icy conditions? Take heart because the Caribbean is much closer than you think.

A COLORFUL ATMOSPHERE — This lighted logo presents the theme of The Bun Hut. Pictures line the walls with images of sea life and islands. (Larry Penkava / Randolph Hub)

The Bun Hut Restaurant & Bar is bringing traditional Caribbean food with an Asian twist to 132 Sunset Ave., Asheboro. The entire ambience takes patrons to the islands, from the music to the pictures on the walls to the national flags of the islands to the Junkanoo figure welcoming guests at the front door.

And it comes naturally from a guy who grew up in The Bahamas — Chef Ray Mackey — and learned his craft from his parents and his formal culinary training at The Bahamas Hotel Training College, now a part of the University of The Bahamas.

“We want to bring something different to Asheboro,” Mackey said. “Our motto is ‘A one-of-a-kind experience: promoting Caribbean tourism through food and flavor.’ 

“We want to shine a light on all the islands. We aim to try to give the experience of the islands. We try to brand the entire Caribbean with flavors from our African ancestors. Everything is from scratch.”

with even the restrooms sporting the island theme. Below, The Bun Hut bar is ready to serve tropical drinks. (Photo: Larry Penkava / Randolph Hub)

Bun Hut’s opening is any day now, once all the details are finalized.

Mackey said he took a trip to China six years ago and some of the food there “reminded me of a dish at home.” That’s where the “Asian twist” comes in.

Those foods from the islands include jerk chicken, curry chicken, shellfish, soups, salads, appetizers and a full bar upstairs. 

There’s also a vegan platter with steamed jasmine rice, sauteed farm greens, channa, sweet plantains and pickled mango salad.

Then there are the bao dishes, from which Bun Hut gets its name. Bao just means open bun filled with delights. On the list are island coconut shrimp, tamarind braised oxtail, Bahamian cracked conch, West Indian curry goat, she-crab cake and Jamaican jerk chicken. 

The menu offers appetizers from the islands, sides that take you to sunny beaches and desserts cooked the traditional ways.

Even the beverages conjure up images of palm trees and warm breezes, with perhaps a tiny umbrella on a stick.

SPICING UP DOWNTOWN — Kai Mackey, Chef Ray’s son, and Sonia Nyenron pose beside the Junkanoo character, which will greet patrons at the door. Junkanoo is a festival held in The Bahamas on Dec. 26. (Photo: Larry Penkava / Randolph Hub)

Mackey said his parents run a catering business working with the major resorts in The Bahamas and he’s been working in the food industry since he was 12. He learned from them that “work should be your passion.” He was chef with the opening of the Bimini Bay Resort & Casina.

So how does a Bahamian manage to open a restaurant in Asheboro, North Carolina? By way of New York City, of course.

“I was granted the opportunity to run a restaurant in New York,” Mackey said of his coming to the United States nine years ago. Then in 2020, he opened his own restaurant in lower Manhattan, also called Bun Hut. The opening was soon followed by the COVID pandemic. He closed his New York restaurant last July

“I came to Asheboro by luck,” he said. “I was looking for something to clear my head, for peace and quiet,” and was visiting North Carolina. “Asheboro is the place I landed. What’s the sign on the interstate say? ‘Heart of North Carolina.’ 

“It was a great opportunity to do what I want,” Mackey said of opening Bun Hut. “I want to give back and be part of the community, get a little piece of the American dream.”

His business concept, Mackey said, is QSR — quick service restaurant. He also wants to “give a window toward jobs, anyone who wants to learn the trade. It’s a labor of love. A restaurant owner is not going to get rich.”

Since Mackey put up a sign in front announcing that Bun Hut would be opening, he has found a welcoming response. “Everybody has been warm and inviting that I’m investing in a local business. I’m praying we can make our mark and be a staple in the community. We’re keeping abreast of what’s going on downtown.”

Mackey hopes to do that by bringing something different to Asheboro. “We want to bring fun, laughter and joy,” he said. “We want people to come and relax, enjoy a meal and conversation and Caribbean music.”

And, perhaps, get away from winter for an hour or so.