Venerable local burger chain Hill-Bert’s Burgers is down to one location. The 35th Street location closed about two weeks ago, but the 5340 Cameron Rd. location recently re-opened. With the Burnet Road location having closed, the Cameron Road location carries on as the only location for the burger shop that started in 1973.
An excerpt from former Statesman critic Mike Sutter’s 2009 story about the state of Austin’s burger joints.
The building of burger dynasties on the ruins of empires past is hardly new. P. Terry’s upcoming third location at 4228 William Cannon Drive recently housed a Long John Silver’s. Hilbert Maldonado’s original Hill–Bert‘s was a Burger Chef, and his three current restaurants are carved from old mission-style Taco Bell shops, painted Hill–Bert‘s signature canary yellow and beaver brown.
In 2007, when it looked inevitable that he’d lose the lease on 3303 N. Lamar Blvd., Maldonado grabbed a lease on a former Taco Bell site across Lamar Boulevard at 1503 W. 35th St. So for about a year, Hill–Bert‘s clicked along like Starbucks, operating stores practically across the street from each other. And both locations did fine, he said. The reason: Drivers approaching from the west preferred the right-hand turn into the 35th Street shop over making the left-hand turn off Lamar Boulevard to visit the other store. With another restaurant on Cameron Road, Hill–Bert‘s was up to three.
“But I knew the day of reckoning was coming, ” Maldonado said. And in 2008, after years of leasing the original site month-to-month, he chose not to match the lease offer involving P. Terry’s, and the family threw a closing party in September. The equipment went into storage until Maldonado, worried about providing for the three of his four grown children who had taken up the family business, made a bid for another former Taco Bell building on Burnet Road.
With the same stools, the same flame broiler and the same phone number from the original location, the Hill–Bert‘s on Burnet Road opened last month . Putting his GDI (Gosh-Dang-Independent) pride aside, Maldonado is squinting to see the bright side of his three-cornered empire. “My customers ask me every day, ‘What happened at Lamar?’ ” he said. “I put a smile on my face, and I say, ‘That’s a long story. But look what we have now.’ “