Hill’s Kitchen owner maintains dedication to community, emphasizes freshness and accessibility

Hill’s Kitchen, which sits at the corner of Cattell and W Monroe Streets, may have replaced College Hill’s local diner, but the food and style of Tracy’s lives on through long-time chef and Hill’s Kitchen’s new owner, Stephanie Merlo.

Back in April 2018 Merlo made the decision to buy the restaurant from Tracy and convert it into Hill’s Kitchen.

“Tracy was here for 21 years, and she wanted to retire,” Merlo said. “It was time, and people kept saying I should take it over so I finally decided to do it.”

Many classic diner dishes from Tracy’s remain, from eggs any-style to french toast, but all of the names of the meals have been changed. There have also been some additions to the menu.

“One dish we added was scrapple, and it is a huge seller now, but our potatoes are still what we are known for,” Merlo said.

Merlo said she and the staff emphasize the importance of always using fresh food in everything they cook at Hill’s Kitchen, which is part of what she believes makes their dishes delicious. 

“Nothing we make is frozen or out of a packet, and everything is being made to order,” Merlo said.

Anna Jarvis ‘18 said she tastes the difference.

“Lafayette’s dining halls offer similar breakfast options to Hill’s Kitchen, but Hill’s Kitchen’s food is much better,” Jarvis said.

Merlo said that the new name was inspired by the culinary competition television series, Hell’s Kitchen. 

“It is a play on words and since we are on College Hill, it made sense,” Merlo added.

Not only did its name change, but the restaurant was also renovated.

“We turned this place around in four days,” Merlo said.

Merlo kept its local diner charm, but the walls, once green, are now a subdued grey. A portrait of a colorfully-painted cow stands out, amongst the other new pieces of artwork that hangs on the walls.

While Tracy’s only accepted cash as a form of payment, Merlo added a new credit card payment system.

“Not many people have cash on them, especially college students, so it was really important for us to get that equipment in here,” Merlo said. “It is all about the customers and making it easier for them.”

“I was so happy when I went the other day and could pay with my credit card because I rarely have cash on me,” Jarvis said.

In addition to the credit card system, Merlo is also thinking about reaching out to Lafayette about creating a relationship to accept Pard Dollars.

“I really want to gear more towards Lafayette College students since they are across the street,” Merlo said.

While Merlo is not new to her work environment, she said she is still getting used to her new dual-role as both owner and chef. 

“I feel married to this job now because it doesn’t end when the official work hours are over,” Merlo said. “I am here at least six days a week and all responsibility falls on me.”

Thus far, however, Merlo said she hasn’t had too much to worry about, especially since business has been good.

“It is nice to own something and have it be successful,” said Merlo. “We have a lot of new faces, but still have the regulars that we had before.”

And what is Merlo’s favorite dish to make when she has her chef hat on?

“Any omelette,” Merlo said.

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