The Home of Famous Pies – as the sign says – turned 70 in February 2016, and owners Andrea Zaiser and Sandie Parley continue the tradition as they celebrate Hilltop Diner Cafe’s anniversary. The sisters honour owners of the past along with customers of the present through food and a unique experience.
Zaiser and Parley purchased the diner more than five years ago after Zaiser said, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we ran a diner?”
They had both waited tables in the past and Zaiser had managed a few eateries, so when the call came that the previous owner was ready to sell, the sisters dove in head-first. Parley was looking for a retirement activity and Zaiser needed a little something to call her own.
The rest, as they say, is history, and the pair has brought Hilltop back to a place the founder, Isabel Mary (Ralph) Gerrard likely would have been proud of.
While Gerrard was the original owner, the establishment changed hands quite a few times before the sisters took it on, but longevity was built into the Hilltop Diner Cafe when it opened in 1946. Gerrard lived to age 97 and if the sisters have their way, the diner may just surpass that.
It wasn’t always easy for the diner on the hill on Fraser Highway between Aldergrove and Langley. Some owners had different visions for it. it even closed down for a few years, but throughout it all, it always remained family owned and that’s definitely a tradition Zaiser and Parley are proud to continue.
“It’s an experience when you come here,” Zaiser said. “This is not fast food. It’s real food. I’d say 85 to 95 per cent of what we do is homemade. We make our own hash browns and french fries, roast our own turkey, beef, and ham, and my sister bakes all the cream pies here.”
Back in 2001, there were just two kinds of pies on the menu. Now, under the sisters’ watch, there are more than 20, including the famous flapper pie. As Zaiser says, Parley loves to bake. Even the fruit pies are created locally, although off-site at Krause Berry Farms.
Open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week, the diner is a sit-down occasion with history covering the walls. Photos of past owners, era-specific images, and even signage of years gone by make up part of the decor. Certainly the interior is worth seeing, but more than that, Zaiser wants everyone to know it’s about the food.
“Not a lot of restaurants in the area do what we do,” she said. “You find good food in the oddest places.”
Family and friends make up a good portion of the team that keeps the diner hopping. Zaiser’s daughter is the head cook and she brought her best friends along to work with her. It’s a lively environment where regulars are usually greeted by name by Zaiser or Parley.
“I really like working with people,” Zaiser said. “To me, it’s like visiting. I’m just lucky enough to have staff who cook and clean up. We have such amazing staff. These girls are like family.”
Zaiser stressed that the food at Hilltop is simple, yet flavourful. Gourmet burgers with quality ingredients complement homemade soup on the lunch menu whereas eggs, bacon, and hand-made sausage patties round out the breakfast offerings. The food is so good, Hilltop was featured in the Food Networks You Gotta Eat Here! TV show.
It’s the basics that count according to Zaiser recounting the same principles Gerrard likely would have followed: good food and service with a smile; now for 70 years, and running.