Putting the ‘home’ in home cooking
This is the first of an occasional series on businesses run out of houses along West Colorado Avenue.
In an era of “concept” restaurants, Ray and Andrea Hill are doing just fine, thank you, running their breakfast-and-lunch eatery out of a converted house.
They opened Mountain Shadows Restaurant at 2223 W. Colorado Ave., 15 years ago with the idea that the genuinely homey feel “adds a personal touch,” Andrea said in a recent interview. Although they don't actually live there, “it's like having breakfast in someone's home as opposed to an impersonal strip mall or something.”
In keeping with that style, the restaurant is run in a family way. Although Ray's health has cut back his hours in recent months, he's been the head cook and developed the menu, while Andrea oversees operations and Ray's daughter, Tara, waits tables. Josh Thomasson, Andrea's 11-year-old nephew, helps bus once in a while, and manager Kasie Swain is almost like family, having been with the Hills for more than a dozen years.
The Hills had the original Mountain Shadows Inn in Lake George in the 1980s. The Hills left there in '89. Two years went by before they got the desire to return to restaurant ownership. “We were living on 19th Street and we noticed this place was for rent,” Andrea said. “The rest is history.”
Things were good during the '90s. The Hills opened a second Mountain Shadows on the eastside that did so well they sold the Colorado Avenue location.
But in the early 2000s, “the economy went south,” she recalled. “The high tech jobs were gone and the military people went to Iraq. We lost 60 percent of our customers.”
So the Hills once again found themselves out of the restaurant ownership business... until August '04, when Ray happened to drive by and see a for-rent sign in front of the 2223 W. Colorado Ave. house.
The landlord told Ray he wanted the Hills back, but Andrea wasn't sure if she wanted to take the risk again. So she told herself that she'd just go there and see how it felt. “When I walk through the door, I'll know,” she remembers thinking. “I did, and there were tears.”
With that, Mountain Shadows was back, with its original owners. They're making it, though it hasn't quite been a Hollywood ending. “It's a struggle, economically based,” Andrea said. “Gas prices, food prices, utilities and insurance have all gone up. That's the problem with a mom-and-pop restaurant. You don't have a big corporation backing you. And you can only raise your prices so high before people stop coming back.”
What keeps their spirits up are their customers. In the summer months, “there is a certain element of people who look for places like this,” Andrea said. “They know they can eat at a Denny's anywhere.”
As for the rest of the year, “we depend on our local trade,” she said. “It's our slogan: We appreciate the tourists, but we treasure our locals.”
Westside Pioneer article