You can’t contain the anticipation, excitement and family pride of cousins Mike and Chris Hill, the new owners of Hill’s Maple Leaf Restaurant, 181 Memorial Avenue in Orillia. Now in its 97th year as a family-owned business, the restaurant is famous for its welcoming vibe, friendly servers, hot all-day breakfast, and tasty, home-cooked meals at fair prices.
Food has been in the Hill family’s DNA since 1926 when their great-grandfather, ‘Hot Dog Tom’, started a hot dog stand on Colborne Street and later a restaurant where his children worked. Tom’s descendants continued in the food industry, and in 1981, nephew Tony Hill and his uncle Paul Hill opened the current location. With Tony and Paul now retired, the torch has passed to Mike and Chris.
Six generations of Hills have worked as cooks, servers and dishwashers. Mike and Chris were recruited young. Mike says, “At age 13, I worked as a dishwasher three to four nights a week and eventually became a cook.” Chris also washed dishes on weekends and after school, starting at age 12. “I trained as a chef and have worked at Casino Rama and other local eateries,” explains Chris.
Mike states, “Although we know all the frontline duties, it’s different than actually owning and managing a restaurant.” That’s when a fellow business owner revealed that he launched and financed his restaurant with the help of the Orillia Area Community Development Corp. (CDC), and their BizLink program. “The CDC must have good word of mouth,” says Chris, “because my mortgage broker also urged we contact them.”
Located at 22 Peter Street South, the CDC is the area’s business success centre. Along with their expert advisors and in-depth regional knowledge, the CDC provides counselling, workshops, and funding to help entrepreneurs plan, start, grow, buy and sell their businesses. The CDC’s mission is to develop a strong business community to create a thriving local economy.
Mike states, “The CDC is an invaluable resource. We met with our business consultant every week, and she explained the financial and legal documentation needed to purchase the restaurant. She even gave us a step-by-step to-do list, so there was no confusion or guesswork throughout the entire process.” All the financing was in place within two months, and the cousins can pay off the loan anytime. “If it wasn’t for the CDC, I would have had to take out a second mortgage on my home, or Chris and I would have had to use our credit lines and probably pay a higher interest rate,” says Mike.
“We knew nothing about bookkeeping, payroll deductions, taxes or tracking revenue and expenses,” says Chris. “The CDC provided training and solid business advice to help us operate effectively, including adding additional staff.”
Mike and Chris have already hired six new employees with plans to extend the restaurant hours, install a designated take-out entrance and build a comfortable staff room. Chris mentions, “We also plan to add new items to the menu, but don’t worry, we’re keeping all the popular dishes, including the crowd-pleasing Tony’s Clubhouse.”
The cousins feel they have won the lottery to own this long-standing restaurant. “It’s about being a part of something bigger than I am. I never met my great-grandfather or grandfather, and I know my dad would be over the moon at what is happening,” reveals Mike. “I’ve worked there my whole life,” says Chris, “so it’s a sense of accomplishment to say I own it now.”
As they look forward to celebrating the restaurant’s 100 anniversary in 2026, Mike and Chris are excited and honoured to keep Hill’s in the family and a fixture in the Orillia community.
Mike and Chris are passionate when they state, “The restaurant wouldn’t be where it is today without the support of our more than 90 Hill relatives, the dedicated restaurant staff, and many loyal Orillia residents and tourists.”
“Whether you want to start a new enterprise, grow an existing company or buy a family business, your first step is to contact the professionals at the CDC,” the cousins declare.
Mike and Chris affirm, “When you have the foundational training and support of the CDC, you’re well on your way to building your future success and a legacy for your family.”
To learn more about Hills Maple Leaf Restaurant, visit www.hillsmapleleafrestaurant.com or call (705) 326-8612.
For more information on the Orillia Area Community Development Corp. (CDC) visit www.orilliacdc.com or contact 705-325-4903 x 101. BizLink is our Regional Community Futures Program assisting business owners and entrepreneurs in successful Business Transitions through connections, coaching and financing.
*Special thanks to the project funder, The Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF). OTF is an agency of the Government of Ontario, and one of Canada’s leading granting foundations. OTF awarded $108 million to 629 projects last year to build healthy and vibrant communities in Ontario.
Source: Orillia Matters