A legendary South Austin restaurant and music venue is closing — at least for the time being.
Hill’s Café on South Congress will cease operations Wednesday night as property owners prepare to develop the 14-acre tract of land the venue has called home for more than a quarter-century, its operators told the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV on Thursday.
Bob Cole, a limited partner of the establishment and local radio host, said the Goodnight family, which jointly started Hill’s Café in 1947, has told him they hope to incorporate the cafe into a new, mixed-use development near the intersection of South Congress and Ben White Boulevard in a process that could take at least two years.
“It is my belief that given the dedication of the Goodnight family, and Dean Goodnight, that the restaurant will go on at some point,” Cole said.
Staff were being informed of the plans Thursday.
“As the owners of the location, but more importantly as the owners of the name/brand Hill’s Café and most of its history, we are committed to its legacy as a part of Austin’s future,” Dean Goodnight said in a statement. “We are excited about this opportunity, for Hill’s to be an integral part of our plans, as we look to develop the entirety of our surrounding property.”
Hill’s serves as both a restaurant — specializing in chicken-fried steak, brisket and cobbler — and a live music venue, drawing names such as singer-songwriter Kevin Fowler. It hosts private parties on a scenic outdoor patio.
“People have told me, ‘If we won the football game, our coach took us there,’” Cole said. “‘If we were out all night, we went there,’ ‘I asked my wife to marry me there’ — Hill’s was where you celebrated.”
The beloved restaurant survived after near-ruin in November 2013, when an electrical fire started in an patio awning and extended to a roof over the Sam and Bob Room, a banquet room that contained memorabilia collected over the years. Luckily, much of the memorabilia was saved by firefighters.
Ellis Winstanley, a part-owner who is involved in several other iconic restaurants, said property taxes have tripled over five years on the property, and “there is no end in sight to that.” To pay those taxes, operators say, they must have more income from the property, despite the restaurant’s success.
“I love old Austin brands, and I have been fortunate to be part of them,” Winstanley said. “I recognize that times change, and things change, and there is a certain prerogative with where we are as a community now. We really want to make sure that everyone who feels a connection to Hill’s has a chance to come experience it one last time.”
The closure comes about a month after another Austin-famous spot, the Frisco on Burnet Road, closed after 65 years.
Hill’s has operated in Austin since 1947 and has been in its current location for more than 50 years.
Its website says its roots begin when legendary cattle rancher Charlie Goodnight served legendary steaks from a chuck wagon. For a permanent place, the family opened a 20-seat coffee shop and restaurant next to the Goodnight Motel on South Congress under the name “Hill’s Café” in honor of partner Sam “Posey” Hill. The establishment soon became an Austin staple.
“A visit to Hill’s Café has always been an investment in the true and cultured heritage of Austin,” its website says. “Until you have been to Hill’s Café, you can neither legitimately consider yourself a true Austinite nor a true Texan.”