Hillstone Restaurants and the Hillstone Group

On the bon appétit website yesterday, a piece “Welcome to Hillstone, America’s Favorite Restaurant” by Andrew Knowlton, with the teaser:

It’s never going to win a James Beard Award. Or try to wow you with its foam experiments or ingredients you’ve never heard of. But it is the best-run, most-loved, relentlessly respected restaurant in America.


Hillstone ribs, slaw, and fries

Hillstone Restaurant Group started in 1977 with the opening of Houston’s in Nashville. Texas-born founder George Biel, the brains and passion behind the group, began his career as a server at Steak and Ale. “Why the name Houston’s?” [an interviewer] asked. George simply liked the ring of it, not to mention the city’s pioneering reputation at the time as home to NASA and big oil, I told her. When Houston’s debuted, I argued, it identified and then filled a void in the American dining scene. It wasn’t fast-food burgers, but it wasn’t fancy European-style dining, either. Whether Biel knew it or not, he was defining a uniquely American style of eating out that was unpretentious yet discerning. “And how many places do they have now?” she asked skeptically. “Forty-eight restaurants under 15 names in 15 states,” I said. That didn’t help my case. I made one last pitch by explaining that what Ralph Lauren is to American fashion — approachable, reliable, and nostalgic but forward-thinking — George Biel and the Hillstone Group are to American restaurants.

The name thing makes it hard to figure out if the Hillstone Group has a restaurant near you; the company is constantly changing names, especially to create more locally-named restaurants (in part to avert ordinances and laws having to do with chains), and these locally-named places don’t necessarily share the Hillstone menu and style. But there’s a Hillstone Restaurant in San Francisco (still with that name), at 1800 Montgomery St. And the Los Altos Grill (233 3rd. St. in Los Altos), not far south of where I live, is in the Group. Past that, I’m not sure what’s in the neighborhood. Some more history, from Wikipedia:

Houston’s Restaurant is an upscale American casual dining restaurant chain, owned by Hillstone Restaurant Group, whose main corporate headquarters is based in Beverly Hills, California. There are 19 Houston’s locations in 10 states.

The first Houston’s restaurant was launched by current owner and CEO George Biel, Joe Ledbetter and Vic Bransetter in 1977 in Nashville, TN. Bransetter sold his shares in 2006, and Ledbetter in 2011, leaving George Biel sole owner of the company. The corporate company, Hillstone Restaurant Group, was founded in 1976 and owns the following restaurants: Gulfstream, Bandera, Rutherford Grill, Palm Beach Grill, Cherry Cheek Grill, Los Altos Grill, Woodmont Grill, R+D, Hillstone, South Beverly Grill, East Hampton Grill, White House Tavern, and Houston’s. As of 2015, the group owns and operates 50 restaurants under 13 different brands in the United States.

(The difference in counts — 50 restaurants under 13 names, 48 restaurants under 15 names — might just reflect counting at different times.)

In any case, Hillstone Restaurants, operating under that name, are known for offering an eclectic menu, on which sushi, ribs, and a fried chicken sandwich are all available. The bon appétit article offers recipes for eight Hillstone dishes, which range from American “plain food” carefully prepared to more exotic items that are not threatening to somewhat adventurous American palates:

Thai Steak and Noodle Salad, Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, “The Greatest” Deviled Eggs, Ding’s Coleslaw, Spinach and Chicken Waldorf [Salad], Hawaiian Rib-Eye Steak, Iron-Skillet Cornbread, Wild Rice Salad with Corn, Blueberries, and Almonds


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