Featurepreneur: A Tasty Career Transition
By Genevieve Allen Hearn
Hillary Webb has been working tirelessly to get ready for the grand opening of her new restaurant. On September 20th you’ll be able to find Hill’s Grills Panini Press & Tea House on the corner of Cornwallis and Webster in Kentville (where the Central Café used to be located). Formerly working in the sciences, Hillary chatted with The Grapevine about her foray into the world of sandwiches, baked goods, and tea. And if her food tastes as good as it looks on the Hill’s Grills Instagram feed, the valley is in for a real treat!
The Grapevine (GV): Congrats on your new business! What can we expect from Hill’s Grills?
Hillary Web (HW): Thank you! Lots, I hope! We aim to be the primary tea destination for tea lovers in the valley and beyond, but even more than that we want to become the favourite breakfast and lunch location for locals. Sandwiches are a staple in the North American diet, and we make them fun and flavourful in a bright and cheerful environment, keeping it simple with local ingredients and a whole lot of love.
GV: How did you get into the food industry? Did you find the career or did the career find you?
HW: I actually got into the food industry at 16 years old with my first job at McDonald’s. I ended up working my way up to management and enjoyed 5 years in the fast-paced food industry. My family is from Newfoundland, where sharing food is the primary way of showing our love and enjoying each other’s company, so cooking and eating well have been ingrained in me from a young age. I’ve always loved the atmosphere of a coffee shop, but I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker and found that the tea options at cafés were lacking. A few years ago I came up with the idea of “Hill’s Grills”, combining my love for tea and sandwiches in one cozy little tea shop package. Despite restaurant experience and small business management experience, I wanted to be as prepared as I could be, so I went back to school for business management while working full-time. When the Café Central location became available I was about to graduate, so it was ideal timing to make this dream become a reality. I can’t say I fell upon this career with all of the work leading up to it, but I can tell you that this was not what I imagined I’d be doing with my life 10 years ago!
GV: What is your favorite part about working with food?
HW: Being creative. Initially choosing a science-based career meant that I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to be creative in my day-to-day activities, and all of my extra-curricular activities reflected my need to have this outlet. I think this is what eventually led me to my passion for cooking. The scientist in me loves the experimental elements of cooking methods and the use of different equipment, and the creative side in me loves the opportunity to be creative with flavour combinations and explore new realms of cooking territory. It’s a match made in heaven for my complex brain! I said it before, but cooking has always been my family’s way of connecting and sharing, so when I’m cooking for someone (or a whole lot of “someones” here shortly!), it is my way of connecting and sharing a little piece of myself with the world.
GV: Besides your kitchen, where is your favorite place to get a sandwich?
HW: For the classic staple, the clubhouse sandwich, it would have to be Farmer’s Family Diner in Aylesford. The thick-cut fresh bread and the bacon make this sandwich a true treat. It’s huge though – I always end up taking some home.
GV: What piece of advice would you pass on to others starting a business in the Valley?
HW: Talk to others. I have been fortunate enough to find a huge wealth of resources from people who work here in the valley. Whether it’s the town governments, food inspectors, other business owners, or the general public, everyone I’ve spoken with has been knowledgeable and very willing to share their experiences. As a business owner, there are a lot of similarities and challenges regardless of the industry you may be in, so speaking with other local business owners can be a huge asset; it was certainly a help to me. The valley continues to prove itself to be a great place to do business!
Hours of operation will be Monday to Friday 6:30am-4:30pm and Saturdays 8am-4pm. You can follow Hill’s Grills on Instagram or Facebook at @hgpaninihouse.