Hill’s Cafe to close South Austin location, bound for new development

A legendary South Austin restaurant and music venue is closing — at least for the time being.

Hill’s Cafe on South Congress will cease operations Wednesday evening as landowners prepare to develop the 14-acre tract of land the venue has called home for a quarter-century, its operators and property owner told the American-Statesman Thursday.

Bob Cole, a limited partner of the establishment and local radio host, said the Goodnight family, which jointly started Hill’s Cafe in 1947, has told him they hope to incorporate the cafe into a new, mixed-use development near the intersection of Ben White Boulevard, 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 live music venue, drawing names such as Kevin Fowler. It also hosts private parties on a scenic outdoor patio.

It has been part of the fabric of South Austin for decades.

“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.”

Ellis Winstanley, a part-owner who is involved in several other iconic restaurants, said property taxes have tripled in a five-year period on the property, and “there is no end in sight to that.” Operators say that in order to pay those taxes, they must have more income from the property.

“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 web site says that it started 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 Cafe” in honor of partner Sam “Posey” Hill. The establishment soon became an Austin staple.

“A visit to Hill’s Cafe has always been an investment in the true and cultured heritage of Austin,” its web site says. “Until you have been to Hill’s Cafe, you can neither legitimately consider yourself a true Austinite nor a true Texan.”

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