Opening a new restaurant in Riverdale was all about creating a place where Iggy Khoury could feel at home.
“When I look to go out to dinner, I look outside of Riverdale because there was never anything here for me,” he said. “And I said, ‘You know what? People in my age group don’t have anywhere to go here.’”
With that in mind, Khoury opened The Hill Bistro at 3541 Riverdale Ave., on Sept. 22, in the old home of Riverdale City Grill. Completely renovating the location took about eight months.
“I’m bringing something out of the norm where people don’t have to travel anymore,” Khoury said. “They don’t have to go into the city to now find great atmosphere, great food and great cocktails. They’re closer to home.”
The Mediterranean serves as inspiration for Hill Bistro’s menu. Michael Guerrieri, the restaurant’s chef, has focused on natural ingredients, saying he did not want to create “all these crazy sauces that, 90 percent of the time, are bad for you and full of butters.” The restaurant’s current menu offers a variety of dishes, ranging from grilled octopus to veal chops.
Working in Riverdale has been a new and enjoyable experience for Guerrieri because of the people he’s met and their unique taste in food.
“For me, without a neighborhood that has adventurous palates, you’re giving me a canvas without paints,” Guerrieri said. “The paints that I’m surrounded by are glorious, and allows me to just transform that into beautiful paintings with food.”
The response to Hill Bistro overall, according to Khoury, has been positive.
“I’m a hospitality guy,” he said. “I like to see people enjoy themselves.”
But with several previous businesses under his belt, Khoury acknowledges he has come across negative reviews. But they don’t keep him from moving forward.
“In this business, you can’t please everybody,” Khoury said. “But as long as you please the majority, I think we’re doing a fantastic job.”
Khoury’s work isn’t over yet. He and his team at Hill Bistro look to expand their hours until 2 a.m., from Thursday to Saturday, adding live music, and even offering brunch on weekends.
That brunch, Guerrieri said, will have a special Hill Bistro touch.
“It’s not going to be your normal scrambled egg sort of brunch atmosphere,” he said.
Despite only being open for two months, Khoury is still learning the ins and outs of owning a business in Riverdale.
“Every time you do something (like this), you learn something different,” he said. “You learn things about building, things about new laws into place, you learn more about your community. You always learn. It never ends. There’s always a surprise behind those doors.”
But what can never be taught, Guerrieri said, is the compassion behind opening a restaurant in his own neighborhood.
“I think it’s very rare to find a business owner that actually is working from the heart,” Guerrieri said. “And I think that when people leave here, one of the reasons they’re returning already is because they’re not just eating the good food, but there’s a good balance of leaving here feeling at home.”