Hill’s Restaurant and Lounge plans to reopen this fall
Less than a year and a half since a kitchen fire closed Hill’s Restaurant and Lounge in Kennewick, the diner is making a comeback.
A majority of the original building has been demolished, but when the restaurant reopens in November, Tri-Citians will once again be able to enjoy their favorite homestyle meals at 24 Vista Way.
“We’re trying to keep it as close as possible (to the original),” said Nancy Galstad, who operates Hill’s with the help of her life partner, Roger Pearson.
Project manager Jared Wendlandt of G2 Construction of Kennewick, the general contractor on the project, said, “If we do it right, it will still maintain the old homey café feeling.”
Stripped down to its original foundation and some concrete masonry unit walls, a near total rebuild was necessary after extensive smoke damage was discovered by previous contractors who had gutted the building earlier this year.
The project budget remains a moving target, Wendlandt said, who estimated the total cost likely will be in the $500,000 to $600,000 range for building owner, CHM Development, a company based in Ketchum, Idaho.
Galstad said the reconstruction is being funded by CHM, while “insurance is taking care of some of it already.” However, she said any upgrades beyond the cost of replacement will not be covered by insurance.
An unexplained fire broke out in October 2016 near a deep fryer in the kitchen. Since the event occurred outside the establishment’s hours of operation, no one was injured.
In the wake of the damage and ensuing insurance and permitting challenges, Galstad said there was one bright spot: the opportunity to make long desired improvements.
Design West Architects, which operates a local office in Kennewick, is providing design services.
Wendlandt said the new eatery will be about 2,100 square feet and that “the layout will be very close” to the original footprint.
One key improvement will be a new kitchen intended to improve workflow, with a walk-in cooler located outside to capitalize on available space. Wendlandt said the parking area also will receive a refresh to complement the curb appeal improvements the city of Kennewick has planned, which include tree planting.
A lot has changed since the building’s original construction in the 1950s. Several add-ons over the years consisting of varied construction techniques, such as the addition of the bar area around 1967, rendered the old building a bit of an architectural “hodgepodge,” Wendlandt said.
The new Hill’s will feature accessible walkways and bathrooms, as well as several updated utilities, which will alleviate previous plumbing issues. A new gas line will be installed and the restaurant will be hooked into an improved sewer line that runs alongside the property.
If all goes according to plan, Hill’s customers will be greeted by the familiar big sign and arrow—newly refurbished—as well as a front entry and vestibule similar to the original. The restaurant’s much-loved bar stool seating facing the kitchen also will be incorporated into the rebuild, but with a modernized feel.
Customers also will be happy to know that the “Our Lady” painting will have a home in the new restaurant for future customer photo ops.
Galstad said the same menu is planned, though the kitchen will carry on its tradition of experimenting with new dishes.
“We tried to keep things fresh and put out different stuff,” she explained, adding that for those who haven’t experienced Hill’s, its cuisine is best described as “what grandma used to cook, probably great grandma now,” Galstad said with a chuckle.
“It’s one of the last home-style cooking restaurants in the Tri-Cities,” said longtime customer Terry DeVine. “They’ve got the best breakfast in town, that’s my opinion.”
The restaurant originally opened as a walk-up named Max’s Stop and Go, DeVine said, which he said he visited a handful of times while attending Richland High.
DeVine, a 1952 graduate, moved to Kennewick in 1969 and became a regular of what had turned into a full-scale restaurant called Max’s Broiler.
“I’ve been eating there ever since; it’s just a good place to go,” he said.
Earlier that decade, in 1962, the original Hill’s Restaurant was opened by Tom and Ronna Hill where Columbia Center mall is now.
Hill’s moved to its present-day location in the 1990s after Max’s Broiler closed. Galstad took over management of the restaurant from the Hills about 20 years ago.
“It’s a good food corner,” DeVine said. “They’ve always had good food in that building and always had really good help. It’s one of the few places that has an every-night special, and it’s the same every night of the week,” he continued. “It will just be fun to have it back there.”
Galstad said what she looks forward to most is “getting back to our people.”
Before the fire, Hill’s employed 19 servers, hostesses, bartenders and kitchen staff.
“Some (former staff) have said they’re coming back regardless,” Galstad said. Others, she explained, have retired or have found other jobs, so Hill’s will be hiring leading up to the anticipated Nov. 1 reopening.
“See you in the fall,” Galstad said.