Feb 08 2009

Finally, Some Color on the Houston’s-Hillstone Situation

Published by Andy at 10:55 am under Food, Wine & Beer News

hillstonemanhattan1We received the following comment from “Employee” over the weekend that helps clear up some of the mystery behind the Houston’s to Hillstone Manhattan name change. Interestingly, the commenter does not deny that the name change may have had at least something to do with the NYC calorie posting laws:

Employee on 07 Feb 2009 at 5:02 am

OK, so here’s the scoop from an employee. Our owner and founder, George Biel, started his concept with his first Houston’s restaurant in Tennessee over 30 years ago, and has since spread to bustling areas around the country. Houston’s is not his only restaurant. Others include Bandera Grill, Cherry Creek Grill, Rutherford Grill, Cafe R&D, and others. Please visit http://www.hillstone.com to see all our locations and menus. While our family of restaurants operate under the same code of ethics with regards to service and food preparation (utilizing local purveyors, offering great value for freshly in-house made food, choosing small-production wines for sale at far below industry standard mark-ups, etc), the reason for the different names is to reflect our collective family of restaurants. Hillstone is not something coined to mirror another company or brand. Rather, it is the name of George’s vineyard, and at the Lexington and 53rd location, we offer Hillstone wine among our by-the-bottle choices.

Changing the name on the menu and what we’re calling ourselves at our two Manhattan locations allows us to introduce some menu options that may not be traditional Houston’s fare but can include some favorites from our other locations. For example, at my location, the Sashimi Tuna Salad we prepare differs from the recipe utilized at other near-by Houston’s, but is the same as is offered on the west coast. We also have a wonderful Corned Beef sandwich, we maintain several in-season vegetables daily and list them on the menu, and we prepare some of our steaks differently from other locations (broiled as opposed to grilled). By calling ourselves Hillstone, we are able to offer great selections from beyond just the Houston’s “catalog” of recipes, and as such, label our location with the same name as that which we ascribe to our collective family of restaurants. I think it’s a great way for guests to wonder “what is Hillstone?” and possibly introduce them to the rest of our restaurant family by bringing them to our website.

Additionally, we are frequented by a number of tourists who have come to see NYC. Some don’t have a Houston’s near their home towns, but may be located near a Bandera Grill, or Cafe R&D, etc. Since Hillstone is the name of our family of restaurants, we are saying to them “come on in — you’ll get the same great service and quality of food.”

On every paycheck, I and all other employees of Houston’s, Bandera, Rutherford, etc. see Hillstone, and have for several years. And as for the regulation on calorie posting, while our menu items are prepared according to standard recipes, ultimately the final products are graded on taste, and are often modified slightly to compensate for variations in fresh ingredients (”Hey, we need to add a little more lime juice to our Honey Lime Vinaigrette” for example). There is no central Houston’s (or Hillstone) factory where our food is prepared and shipped out, unlike most fast-food chains.

We have been hearing about feedback on the web about calling our NYC stores Hillstone, and to be honest, it’s very exciting. We love to hear and know that our guests are so passionate about what we provide. Our business is hospitality, and we value everyone who chooses to dine in one of our restaurants. Ultimately, our goal is to continue providing great food at a great value with efficient service. Why would we want to upset our loyal fans? Hillstone is not a “rebranding.” We are merely highlighting the collective unity of all of George Biel’s restaurants, and continuing his dream.

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Finally, Some Color on the Houston’s-Hillstone Situation”

  1. bethesdaon 09 Feb 2009 at 8:01 am

    i live in bethesda maryland. they also changed the name of the houston’s here in bethesda to woodmont grill and changes some of the menu items. sadly, this houston’s went downhill after the name change (i copy/paste a couple of reviews below from menupages). will be interesting to see if the nyc locations suffer, too.

    Posted by SPC Cole, Evan T. on 11/11/2008

    Never going back
    Food use to be exceptional at Houston’s in Bethesda. Don’t know why they changed it. The last few times i’ve been there the food was not even half as good as i remember it used to being. And definitely not worth the price anymore. If i’m going to overpay that much for a piece of meat, i’m definitely going to be going somewhere else where it actually tastes good. I will never be going back to the Houstons Woodmont Grille.

    Posted by disheartened fan on 11/01/2008

    What happened to this place?
    I am saddened to write this but the Woodmont Grill has completely ruined the reputation the Hillstone Restaurant Group. I have been there two times since the “switch” from Houston’s to Woodmont Grill and apparently that switch means frozen meats and burgers. It is really sad to see how great this place once was and how badly it could be ruined by inattention to detail which is what made the original so truly wonderful. I refuse to go there again and will instead make the extra 15 minute trek to Rockville to enjoy wonderful original quality that is consistently FRESH and delicious.

  2. Newyorkeron 11 Nov 2009 at 4:13 am

    I just went to the Houstons(Hillstone) NYC Park Av location this weekend & was surprised the name changed. I found the service to be different from my last visit. The bartender was rude and was neglectant to ask if my friend and I needed another drink after all our glasses were empty for 10 minutes. The menu hasn’t changed much nothing rather exciting. Not sure if I will go back.

  3. NYC Dineron 04 May 2010 at 9:39 pm

    Clearly, no employee of Hillstone’s wrote the above email . . . smacks of corporate PR speak!

    Hillstone/Houston’s needs to cut the CRAP and post the nutritional info! I have been searching the web for the nutritional info of the Asian Chicken Salad for the past 15 minutes to no avail. I mean really, how long can they dodge the nutritional bullet? A year . . . 5 years. Customers have come to expect this info. At least, those that can afford to drop $30 – $50 on lunch. In a city that relishes “thin,” they will not be able to dodge this forever.

  4. Maryam Nickon 30 Dec 2011 at 5:29 pm

    What happened to this place?

    I am saddened to write this but the Woodmont Grill has completely ruined the reputation the Hillstone Restaurant Group.

    I live in Virginia and was used to go to Houston in Washington, DC for their great food and service before it was closed several years ago. I found thru a friend that they had opened same restaurant under a different name called “Woodmont Grill” in Bethesda, MD.

    So, as soon as we found out, we went back to our favorite restaurant and despite the new high menu prices , we still were willing to continue to go back until during this last visit.

    On Dec 26, 2011, we went for lunch just to find that not the restaurant menu has been changed and the servers were not as nice as before, food orders was all wrong and finally we end up with crap cold food and bacteria in our food.

    We just paid our bill and took off, as we were so disappointed. Make the long story short; I got sick the same night with very bad sore throat to the point that I was not able to swallow my own saliva and had hard time breathing. My sore throat becomes so bad that I end up seeking an emergency visit to an internist.

    When we left the restaurant we had decided not go back there ever or to complain to the restaurant. However I did not expect to get sick because of lack of hygiene in the restaurant.
    After 4 days been sick, I managed to call Mr. Jonathan Greffrard general manger at Bethesda, MD. His comments was amassing & so shameful “it is your fault that you did not complaint right away” …… I guess he is right .. If I would have a make a seen for cold food & bad service and sending the food back for the second time ……. may be would get some hot food with some urin added to my food for taste !! as possible that they have done so and that is why I am sick now !!
    In addition he was lecturing me about the symptoms of food poising (not that I claimed I had food poising) specially to some one like me who is a Physician Associates herself !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I placed a called at 800 230-9787 and some one by name of Julia Cary called me back and give me same lip service as the general manger in Bethesda , MD. I asked her if I could leave a voice massage for the Mr. George Biel (CEO) or Gail Chesney (the executive admin), yet I was advised that there no promises that they will call me back!!!!

    Warning to all restaurant patrons to avoid & stop going to Houston Woodmont Grill . I was willing to pay the pricy food if the food quality & service was exceptional and I would not get sick eating this garbage. Last but not the least is the way my complaint was received and how I was dealt with, by the restaurant general manger and the so-called executive office.

    This organization did not even had a decency to refund our lunch money or offer to pay my bill for my sickness by going to their restaurant.

    It is really sad to see how great this place once was and how badly it could be ruined by inattention to detail which is what made the original so truly wonderful. I refuse to go there again and will instead will try to locate a place with original quality that is consistently FRESH and delicious, reasonably priced and clean.

    I am asking Mr. George Biel to respond to my concern and issues in hand by answering me back at maryamnick@hotmail.com or 703-200-7727 (C)

    Thank you,

    Maryam Nicksolat

  5. Elizabeth Riveraon 30 Jan 2012 at 4:57 pm

    My ex- husband and I worked with George Biel at Steak and Ale in Nashville,Tenn in the 70′s. George was a regional supervisor and very detail oriented and creative. We have a Ex Houston’s near my office in Dallas, Tx in Preston Center renamed Hillstone. It is just not the same!! I am really surprised–why mess with success.Elizabeth Rivera

  6. Frank Manthaon 26 Dec 2013 at 8:04 pm

    Sorry to see the disappointed posts above.

    This is December 26 2013 and I just dined (with favorite companion) at Hillstones in Coral Gables formerly “Hustons”.


    Fresh Food. Properly Cooked. Delivered by attentive and friendly service staff.

    Attention to detail – PERFECT.
    Attention to customer – PERFECT
    How good – let me explain – there use to be a restaurant in NYC – Le Cote Basque – listed in the 1970s and early 80s as the #2 restaurant in the US. Hillstones Coral Gables is as good or may even be better.
    Attention to Food Quality – PERFECT
    Again – I beg your indulgence to allow me to explain. Companion ordered Crab Cakes and I ordered Ribs. No filling in the Crab Cakes JUST CRAB AND SEASONINGS. The baby back ribs were wonderful…..better than wonderful – they were magnificant.

    We revisited Huston’s (Now Hillstone) because we had a good meal there five years ago. I hope that they stay Hillstone because it is “BETTER THAN EVER”

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