“We were thinking ‘recession,’” said Rick Valley, general manager and part-owner of the restaurant. “We never thought of ‘pandemic.’”
The restaurant’s approach—serving grilled favorites with fine-dining touches at more affordable restaurant prices—was expected to stand out as an attractive option for customers even during an economic downturn, Valley said. But the restaurant was not built around takeout or curbside service until the pandemic struck, he said.
As dining areas across the country had to shut down in the early days of the pandemic, Hillside moved quickly to cut costs, limit hours, remove less profitable items from the menu and get the message out about its curbside and takeout services, Valley said.
These measures allowed Hillside to accomplish a rare feat for a restaurant this year. The business roughly broke even over the first four months of 2020, Valley said.
Now, the restaurant is seeing better business, he said.
A number of employees have been rehired. Food items have been added back to the menu. Beverage offerings have been expanded once again.
Valley attributes the restaurant’s relative success in navigating the pandemic to having made a strong impression with the community in the year before the virus hit. He also noted the restaurant offering foods that people sought out during early shutdowns.
“It’s coming back, and it gets better and more robust with the loosening of restrictions,” Valley said.
In tougher times, customers continued to order the restaurant’s favorite dishes. Burgers, ribs and various family packs devised for the pandemic environment were particularly popular, Valley said.
Although the dine-in area is fuller now than it was a few months ago, about 20% of the restaurant’s business is still curbside and to-go, Valley said.
Hillside Fine Grill
3140 FM 407, Highland Village