Businesses come and go regularly. Very few new ventures get the chance to establish their name before they are seemingly gone and replaced by the next. On Cape Cod where business is still somewhat seasonal it is quite difficult for businesses to gain a foot hold. This goes double for restaurants. Year after year new eateries pop up full of hope and potential and sadly most of them do not last more than a few seasons. This is why when a restaurant not only survives a year but many decades they are celebrated as icons of the Cape. Current establishments like The Lobster Pot, The Skipper, The Riverway, Brax Landing, Old Yarmouth Inn, and more are still going strong. Former legends like Thompson’s Clam Bar, Mildred’s Chowder House, East Bay Lodge, and others paved the way for the current crop.
One quality that seems to go hand-in-hand with success is consistent ownership. Whether family or simply colleagues the knowledge that the same group has been in charge for a long time gives customers comfort. When a restaurant is family-owned it takes it to another level though. One such legendary establishment resided on West Main Street in Hyannis. For more than forty years it was run by the same family and carved out a legacy that is still spoken of fondly by their former loyal customers. It was Hill’s Dining Room and this is its story.
The origins of Hill's Dining Room began in Finland. The family patriarch was Nestor Palomaki of Finnish decent who came to America at the age of eight. He changed his last name to Hill upon being naturalized. The name fit as Palomaki means ‘Burn Hill’ in Finnish. Nestor’s future wife, Amelia Raikkonen, came to America later at the age of sixteen. The pair met, fell in love, and were wed in February 1913. After having their first three children the family briefly moved to New York in 1918-1919 before returning to Cape Cod and building a home on Pine Street in Hyannis.
Amelia and Nestor always gave back to their friends and neighbors even in their first days together. Though living in a small home with four children they would spare any space they had for friends in need. When they moved to a larger home on South Street in Hyannis there was a time when the Hills had at one time eighteen Cape Cod Baseball League players staying with them. The way they treated people would come shining through to the masses later on.
Nestor initially had worked on George Waggoner’s farm on Mary Dunn Road in the early 1920’s. This land eventually became the Barnstable Airport. He was also a fisherman and carpenter before beginning to head toward his destiny as a restaurant owner. He operated a meat cart in the village in the early 1920’s. In 1922 the Hill family was dealt a severe blow when Nestor and Amelia's young son Henry died from septicemia. The family though persevered and became stronger.
Nestor's next venture was operating a shoe store on Main Street. His Union Shoe Store operated for roughly a decade in the area now occupied by Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. Over time though Nestor moved from the production part of the restaurant industry to owning one.
In 1939 Nestor, Amelia, and their four daughters Lillian, Eleanor, Irene, and Miriam, began their greatest venture as restaurant entrepreneurs. Hill’s Dining Room was born on a plot of land the couple bought on West Main Street. The family dynamic that had been evident to friends and neighbors was well on display as the new restaurant opened and became an immediate hit.
|Hill's Dining Room (Sturgis Library)|
Hill’s Dining Room began as a seasonal restaurant serving up classic New England-style cuisine. The extra advantage Hill's had over most other Cape Cod establishments was their prized garden behind the property. There the family grew many of their own vegetables and fruits that were used in their meals. Amelia would proudly state that the vegetables and the help were all homegrown.
Coming into existence as World War II was raging Hill's Dining Room set itself up for success by choosing to close on Tuesdays when most other restaurants closed on Mondays during the war. The Tuesday closing became a tradition for the remainder of the tenure of Hill's.
From the get-go the four Hill daughters helped their parents in any way they could. The restaurant’s success necessitated an ‘all hands on deck’ mentality. The white clapboard building seemed rather unassuming even during its early days of the 1940’s. Inside though was a different story. Homemade breads, soups, salads, and desserts were only the beginning for the increasing throngs of customers that dined at Hill’s. If the timing was right one could dine on fish caught by the family. In the beginning no meal cost more than 99 cents including the fish, beef, and chicken dishes.
|Hill's after the inn next door was constructed. (Sturgis Library)|
Hill’s Dining Room gained a reputation for its homemade food, cozy atmosphere and core staff of family. Over time it eventually became year-round and it was necessary to build additions on to the original restaurant. Three of them came by the end of the 1960’s. Though the four Hill sisters had been working at the establishment for decades they were forced to take on more of a role with the loss of their parents. Nestor passed first in 1963 with Amelia following in 1971.
Despite the loss of the creators of the business Lillian, Eleanor, Irene, and Miriam not only carried on, they flourished. They included their own children into the mix as staff making it three generations strong. Eventually that would expand to a fourth generation of the Hill Family. The biggest accomplishment came though in 1973. It was here that a cocktail lounge was added, bringing the availability of alcohol to Hill’s for the first time. More so than that was a six-room, two-story lodging property turning the establishment into a 170-seat restaurant and an inn. The live entertainment on weekends and Cape Cod Clam Bake specialty kept Hill’s at the forefront of Mid-Cape eateries throughout the 1970’s into the 1980’s.
The Hill sisters had done their best to keep their parents dream going strong. However after more than four decades in business the family was growing weary of running a successful restaurant and inn. In May 1983 the Hill family sold their beloved establishment to the Baldini family for $470,000 ($1.2 million in 2020). The hope was the tradition of the restaurant would continue. By the late 1990’s Hill’s Dining Room had become Paisan’s Family Restaurant. A Cape Cod landmark was gone, though the building which held it remained.
|The Walgreens that stands where Hill's once did.|
The true end to the tenure of Hill’s came in October 2001 when the property was sold and demolished to make way for Brooks Pharmacy, now Walgreens. The owners had said the business had been on the market virtually since it was purchased in 1983 with one potential sale falling through a few years prior.
For over four decades and with the help of four generations of family Hill’s Dining Room and Inn became in institution for visitors and countless loyal customers. From Nestor and Amelia, to Lillian, Eleanor, Irene, and Miriam, down through their children and beyond, generations of Hills built it and generations of Cape Codders loved it. Hill’s was a family restaurant in the truest sense.
In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Brad's Soda Shoppe
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