When Tom Kilpatrick first saw The Hilltop Restaurant in 2001, he knew it was special. The café had been a landmark since 1959, serving up homemade vittles, gallons of coffee and a popular breakfast.
Although seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the café is conveniently located halfway between "here and there," just north of Bellingham and a few minutes south of Lynden on Guide Meridian.
Not only does the highway carry a ton of traffic, it was scheduled soon for a major expansion. Kilpatrick saw an opportunity. With what he calls "natural entrepreneurial instinct," the former owner of several Oregon restaurants had plenty of experience in the business, and he has always loved diners.
"We took a lot of road trips as a kid with grandpa," he says. "We ate in a lot of diners. The food didn't have to be great then. If you were really hungry, you'd eat it. Now, in the restaurant industry, everyone is particular."
With two years of construction interruptions ahead, Kilpatrick made a deal with the state for the land they were absorbing and used the money to build a larger restaurant while keeping the old one open.
He also began catering to eaters who were "particular," banning smoking in the new Hilltop. Not only did business continue, it thrived, and Kilpatrick added to the already successful menu of burgers, old-fashioned milkshakes, homemade pies and hearty breakfasts, to include wild salmon, steaks and salads. They now offer vegetarian and gluten-free choices, too.
In 2006, Kilpatrick added on a catering kitchen and now caters business lunches, weddings and gatherings held at "Windows on the Bay," at Squalicum Harbor.
"Being an entrepreneur is an adventure," Kilpatrick says, "and I'm always up for a good adventure."
The Hilltop Restaurant and Catering
5645 Guide Meridian, south of Laurel
6 a.m. to 8:30p.m. Sunday through Thursday,
6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Breakfast: $5 to $11, all day
Lunch: $5 to $11
Dinner: $10 to $22
Taimi Dunn Gorman is a Bellingham freelance writer.