Diner Hotline Weblog celebrates 6 years!

Well, October 31st has rolled around again and this means I get to look back and remember that 6 years ago today the Diner Hotline Weblog was launched! As I have said in my “About” page, this blog was the continuation of my long-running column in the Society for Commercial Archeology’s Journal magazine. The column had debuted in the Spring 1988 edition of the SCA NewsJournal and within a few years I opted to have the column in the  SCA Journal instead of the SCA News when the entity was split into 2 separate publications. I wrote it until the summer of 2007 and Diner Hotline Weblog came about almost 3 months later at the urging of Brian Butko.Diner-Hotline-decal


Diner Hotline “Euro” decal

In the intervening 6 years, I am very proud of the posts I have written although I would like to write more frequent posts. Anyway The most popular post by far was the Abandoned Luncheonette post I did back in 2010 , co-written by Matt Simmons. I am also proud that writing this blog has lead to my authoring the book Classic Diners of Massachusetts (2011, The History Press) and now I am starting on a new book for the same publisher, New Hampshire Diners: Classic Granite State Eateries due out in the Fall of 2014. So, I want to thank all the my faithful readers/followers and fellow roadtrippers for coming along for the ride so far!


Goodbye to Hilltop Steak House

The famous 68 foot tall Hilltop Steak House sign. October 14, 2013 photo
by Larry Cultrera

Rumors have abounded for years about the imminent closing of the famous Hilltop Steak House located on U.S. Rte. 1 south in Saugus, Massachusetts. At one time this huge restaurant known for its 68 foot tall saguaro cactus shaped neon sign and herd of fiberglass cows on the front lawn was one of the top grossing restaurants in the country. In its heyday according to a Boston Globe article dated October 11, 2013, the Hilltop served more than 20,000 customers a week and grossed an estimated $27 million a year.

When I was younger I can recall the long lines waiting to get in. In fact I know that I was in those lines a few times over the years. Ironically, Denise and I moved to Saugus 13 years ago this coming December 1st and we actually have not eaten at the restaurant since before we moved from Medford. In recent years due to changing demographics as well as increased competition for the dining dollar, patronage of the restaurant has gone way down.

The first official word of the closing came back on Thursday, October 10th when Saugus town Selectman Steve Castinetti  announced via Facebook that the town officials had received a letter from the management of the Hilltop about the upcoming closing on the 20th of the month (today). Ironically, since the announcement, the lines to get in to the restaurant have increased dramatically with reported wait times of over 3 hours at times!

The Hilltop was opened in 1961 by Frank Giuffrida with seating for 125 patrons. With expansions in the late 1960’s bringing the seating to 1200 with 5 function rooms, it became without a doubt, the largest restaurant in the area with 70,000 sq. ft. A later addition housed the Hilltop Butcher Shop. In 1988, a second smaller location was opened on the Daniel Webster Highway in Nashua, NH which operated until 1997. Another location was opened in 1991 on the South Shore in Braintree, ironically in a former Valle’s Steak House. This location closed in 2007. There was also a short-lived outlet in Hartford, CT (1992-93). The restaurant was sold to High Country Investor Inc. in October of 1994 and Frank Giuffrida passed away in 2003.

On Monday the 14th, I decided to get some final shots of the place while it was still in operation. The morning light was perfect after an early fog had lifted and as you can see, the photos are among the best I have ever shot….

Photo taken from the corner of the parking lot, October 14, 2013 by
Larry Cultrera

The fiberglass herd of cows on the front lawn. October 14, 2013 photo by
Larry Cultrera

The herd of cows from the opposite view, October 14, 2013 photo by
Larry Cultrera

The front of the restaurant looking south. October 14, 2013 photo by
Larry Cultrera

The famous sign from a different angle. October 14, 2013 photo by
Larry Cultrera

The Hilltop Butcher shop had been reportedly closed a few months ago, but a second Butcher Shop location in Weymouth, Massachusetts is to remain open. It is not known what will happen to the iconic sign and herd of steers, although rumors have said that the sign has been sold (I’ll believe it when I see it). I for one would love to see someplace like the American Sign Museum of Cincinnati, Ohio get this artifact  http://www.signmuseum.org/ .

Rindge, NH’s Hometown Diner opens

Back in June I wrote about a diner being relocated to Rindge, NH from Ohio by way of Kentucky.  This was the Hometown Diner a 1949 (Silk City No. 4931) Which had been restored by Steve Harwin’s Diversified Diners out of Cleveland, OH.
You can read that post here…. https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/new-home-for-hometown-diner/.  I revisited the diner on Labor Day weekend to see what progress had been made and there were close to a dozen workmen swarming the place to get it ready for opening.

Hometown Diner being worked on – August 30, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Well I am happy to announce that the diner finally opened on October 4th and by all accounts, the place has been swamped with large amount of customers since the opening! I received an email from Bob Higgins this past Friday relating his experience and he gave it a very good review.  Denise and I took a ride this Sunday to have breakfast there. It was a little foggy driving out and the first photo will show a little of that…..

Hometown Diner, now open…. October 13, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Owner Tim Halliday was able to get a seasoned food service professional, Bonita “Bonnie” Rosengrant to operate the new diner. They hired a crew of locals as waitstaff who all seem pleasant and efficient.

Interior of Hometown Diner before the Sunday crowds showed up.
October 13, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Interior of add-on dining room looking toward the diner. Notice the newly installed green and black ceramic tile that was installed on the wall to match the diner’s tile work. October 13, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Interior of add-on dining room looking from the diner. Restrooms are down that hallway. October 13, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Hometown Diner in the emerging sun light after breakfast.
October 13, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

As is usually the case, things have not gone smoothly as the crew was having problems keeping up with the crowds in the first days of operation. I understand that the kitchen needs to be reconfigured to facilitate better work flow as the initial week of operation has uncovered flaws with the original layout. So the diner is closed today (Tuesday the 15th) and the contractors will be working furiously to rearrange the layout and hopefully have it open by tomorrow. The food we had was delicious and with the serving staff getting use to the operation, service will certainly improve. It seems like people are flocking to the diner and I hope that Bonnie Rosengrant and her crew have a  nice long run with the Hometown Diner!

Dedication of Plaque for owners of Carroll’s Diner

As many people who follow this blog know, I have been documenting diners going on 33 years (next month) and have photographed over 830 of them in that time. I think back of all the diners and people I have met thru this personal research project over the years, but I always go back to my early experiences. The ones I can trace all the way back to growing up in Medford, Massachusetts in the 1950’s thru the 1970’s. I had  3 diners that I would get the chance to frequent during that time period, Bobbie’s Diner and the Star Lite Diner both on Mystic Avenue and Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car on Main Street. I have to say the diner I spent the most amount of time in was Carroll’s Diner, partially because it outlasted all the others, but there were many other reasons as well.

Carroll’s was THE meeting place for all of Medford and beyond! It was open 24/7 and was the place to go to “see and be seen”. There was many a late night/early morning spent waiting in line to get in the diner after last call at the local bars and clubs. Also for a time, it seems I was there daily hangin’ with my friends, usually multiple times in a day. I recall cruising into the front parking lot to see if any of my friends cars were parked, continuing into the back parking lot to check there as well. Now granted, the presence of someone’s car did not always mean they were actually there, so of course we had to go in to see if they in fact were! Ah, memories…. I have many for sure….. the stories I could tell!

There were actually 3 incarnations of Carroll’s, a 1928 Brill Diner that operated from 1930 to 1948. That first diner actually remained on-site, becoming the kitchen for the 2nd Carroll’s Diner…. a 1948 stainless steel Jerry O’Mahony Diner. The O’Mahony operated until 1961 when it was replaced by an “L” shaped Swingle Diner that was placed on the adjoining property. The Carroll brothers, Maury and Jack actually were on the cutting edge when they bought that Swingle Diner. It was undoubtedly the most modern diner not only in the greater Boston area, but in fact all of northern New England for the next few years. This third and last incarnation of Carroll’s operated until December of 1986.

Carroll’s Diner, August 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera

One of the more memorable stories I can relate was the time in March, 1986 when I was interviewed by the late Donald Dale Jackson, a talented frequent contributor to Smithsonian Magazine. We sat in a booth at Carroll’s and talked about diners and my involvement with them. I have to say that this particular piece he wrote single handedly  increased my standing as one of the most visible Diner Buffs in the country. Ironically, I was not the only Medford guy included in that article. John F. Carroll Jr. (Jack Carroll’s son) was also interviewed for this piece!

I am honored to say that in the early to mid 1990’s John and I became friends and remained in contact with each other until his untimely passing due to cancer in January of 1996. Through him I renewed my past acquaintanceship with his cousins Maury, Tom and Paul, as well as his dad Jack and Uncle Maury. I took it upon myself to write a history of the Carroll family’s involvement in the diner business within the last year and a half for this blog in honor of the opening of Carroll’s Bar & Grill in Medford Square (the restaurant opened in May, 2012). You can read this history here…… https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/carrolls-bar-grille-looking-at-spring-opening-in-medford-mass/.

On September 27th, I received an email from the City of Medford with an invitation to attend a dedication ceremony to be held on Saturday, October 5th. This ceremony was being held at 101 Main Street in Medford (the former site of Carroll’s Diner) where a newly refurbished island in the median strip separating the north and southbound lanes of Main Street (Route 38) was to be dedicated with a plaque honoring Maurice W. Carroll Sr., Maurice W. “Maury” Carroll Jr. and John F. “Jack” Carroll, the owners of Carroll’s Diner.

Well Denise and I did attend the ceremony along with my brother Rick. There was a decent crowd of people there along with Mayor Michael McGlynn, and members of the City Council and School Committee as well as State Representative Paul Donato. Many members of the Carroll family were in attendance including Mrs. Dolores Carroll, the late Maury Jr’s wife, Maury Carroll III and his wife Carla as well as their 3 children Lesley, Jill and Maury IV. Maury III’s brothers Tom and Paul, Paul’s wife Debbie with their children Courtney Albano, David Carroll and Michael Carroll as well as their sister, Diane DeBenedictis with her husband Frank and daughters Christina Walker & Deanna DeBenedictis.  Marianne Galeazzi, daughter of the late Jack Carroll was also there with her husband Rick. I apologize if I left anyone out.

It was nice to see the restaurant’s logo which has existed since the 1950’s and resurrected for the new Carroll’s Bar & Grill located a block down the street on the new plaque. October 5, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

At the dedication of the plaque, standing on the wall from left to right,Paul Carroll, Tom Carroll and Maury Carroll III. On the street from left to right is Mrs. Dolores Carroll (partially hidden), Diane DeBenedictis, Marrianne Galeazzi and Mayor Michael McGlynn. October 5, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

At the dedication of the plaque, standing on the wall from left to right,Paul Carroll, Tom Carroll and Maury Carroll III. On the street from left to right is Mrs. Dolores Carroll (partially hidden), Diane DeBenedictis, Marrianne Galeazzi and Mayor Michael McGlynn. October 5, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Maury Carroll addressing the crowd after the unveiling of the plaque.
October 5, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Singing  God Bless America (lead by the talented Deanna DeBenedictis) with other members of the Carroll family, accompanied by the Medford High Alumni band.
October 5, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Following the ceremony, the crowd was invited back to Carroll’s Bar & Grill for some food and refreshments…….

A photo of the attendees enjoying some food and refreshments at Carroll’s Bar & Grill after the dedication ceremony. October 5, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

A photo of the attendees enjoying some food and refreshments at Carroll’s Bar & Grill after the dedication ceremony. October 5, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

A photo of the attendees enjoying some food and refreshments at Carroll’s Bar & Grill after the dedication ceremony. October 5, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

One of 2 remaining decorative stainless steel “C’s” that had been mounted on the tall chimney behind the former diner from 1961-1986. It was recently modified to be back lit. October 5, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera