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Ride the hillavator to a romantic dinner in Capitola | Bartell's Backroads

The backstory of Shadowbrook's odd people-mover.

CAPITOLA, Calif. — It is known for its “romance in dining,” but before anyone can eat in this restaurant you have to travel down a steep canyon in one of the oddest contraptions ever seen. It’s known as the "hillavator" and from just the right angle in the parking lot on Warf Road, you can see it gliding up and down the Soquel Creek Canyon, in the colorful beach town Capitola.

There’s no ticket needed to ride the broom closet-sized vehicle, but there is some expectation that you have reservations to dine at the historic Shadowbrook Restaurant at the bottom of the hill.

Shadowbrook owner Ted Burke said the hillavator is a mix between a cable car and an elevator. It rides on a track and uses a heavy counterweight and cable to move passengers up to and from the restaurant.  

“It’s about a 40-degree angle, so it’s pretty steep and it only takes about a minute and 10 seconds to get to the bottom,” said Burke.

Before the hillavator, restaurant patrons were shuttled to their table, up the creek, in an old World War II amphibious vehicle.

“It was a seasonal business back then. Sometimes people would get rained on,” said Burke.

Prior to being a restaurant, Shadowbrook was an abandoned log cabin built in the 1920s, but after World War II ended, veterans Brad McDonald and Ed Phillippet bought the place. After major renovations, it opened in 1947. 

“Ed took care of the kitchen, and Brad maned the front of the building, kind of a Barnum & Bailey type,” said Burke.

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The hillavator was installed in 1958 and Shadowbrook quickly became a crowd favorite. The upscale dining brought in all sorts of actors and dignitaries. 

When Ted Burk and his partner Bob Munsey bought the place 1978, they began further renovations and expansion of the dining rooms, often using recycled wood and ornate decorations. They also instituted a business casual dress code. 

“We have lots of special occasions and many of our patrons actually like the dress code,” said Burke

Today, Shadowbrook is a labyrinth of dining rooms, always changing so regular visitors rarely eat at the same table. The only thing that hasn’t changed: the hillavator.

More food from the backroads: Fort Bidwell--the loneliest place in California to get a good steak!

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