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¬† .