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 .

Roger’s Redliner Diner finds a home

Back in December I made a visit to Salisbury, Mass. to reconnect with a diner I first saw in 1989. I wrote about it here in January…. This was the former Monarch Diner that was originally located in Dover, NH from 1950 to 1968. It was moved to North Berwick, Maine and operated for a short time as Lois’ Diner. It remained closed on-site in North Berwick from 1973 to 1986 and was moved to storage in Sanford, Maine, where I first saw it in 1989. Here is a post I did in March of 2010 on abandoned diners that shows the diner in Sanford…..

Ironically I saw this diner along a stretch of road somewhere in southern Maine possibly 10 years later. I believe it was in transition and possibly on its way to Salisbury where it remained in storage until 2 weeks ago. Roger Elkus who is the owner of the “Me & Ollie’s Bakery/Cafe chain of southeastern NH along with his production manager Daryl McGann have plans to reopen the former Monarch Diner and operate it as Roger’s Redliner Diner. It will become an anchor of one end of  the new section of Southgate Plaza shopping center being constructed on Lafayette Rd (U.S. Rte. 1) abutting Water Country water park. In fact, it looks like the building for the kitchen/rest rooms is actually part of the new addition to the shopping center. Basically the diner will be grafted to the front of that building. They have a lot of work to do to get this diner up and running again. All the windows need replacement glass and the exterior needs some sprucing up. All the original stripes (I am assuming they were red – possibly flex-glass reflective strips) are missing. These can easily be replaced with a red plastic or enamel strip and an entryway vestibule will need to be either recreated or a reasonable facsimile be built. Elkus and McGann are shooting for an opening in the Fall of this year. We wish them luck!

Roger’s Redliner Diner on site at the new location in Portsmouth, NH
June 23, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Close-up of Roger’s Redliner Diner. June 23, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Roger’s Redliner Diner showing the pad and piers supporting the structure
June 23, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Rear view showing the footing of the building the diner will be grafted on to.
June 23, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Prince Pizzeria’s Arthur Castraberti passes away

Arthur Castraberti at his 85th birthday party. Photo courtesy
Prince Pizzeria Facebook page.

Prince Restaurant, August, 1989 photo by Larry Cultrera

I am sad to report that Arthur O. Castraberti passed away on June 28, 2011. Arthur was basically the person responsible for owning and operating the Prince Pizzeria, a longtime roadside landmark located on U.S. Route 1 in Saugus, Mass. since 1961. It was originally part of a chain of restaurants started by the Prince Spaghetti Company of Lowell, Mass in the 1950’s, I believe. Other outlets of the chain were located in Somerville, Quincy and Hyannis, Mass. I have even seen an old photo of one in an existing building somewhere in downtown Boston. The outlets (other than Boston), including Saugus were notable for their “Leaning Tower of Pizza”, a painted metal sheathed structure attached to the buildings near the entrance, resembling the “Leaning Tower of Pisa (in Italy). The restaurants were known by the name “Prince Spaghetti House” when operated by Prince. The Saugus location is now the only one left!

Prince Restaurant, August, 1989 photo by Larry Cultrera

Prince Restaurant, August, 1989 photo by Larry Cultrera

Prince Restaurant, August, 1989 photo by Larry Cultrera

Prince Pizzeria, April, 2006 photo by Larry Cultrera

As related by the current restaurant’s website, Castraberti was employed by Prince in 1961 and was approached by the President of the company to help turn the 12 seat drive-in restaurant into a possible money-maker. Thinking about the offer made him realize he did not want to put all his efforts into just running the restaurant for the company, so Arthur and Prince made a deal. No money down, no interest. Arthur had to make good on the failed business’ debts in 10 years and the place was his. Well as time has told, the business has become a huge success and the building has grown considerably in the intervening years. Prince Restaurant currently offers seating for about 700 people. It is also home to the 177 seat Giggles Comedy Club (formerly the Princess Room). Check out the full history at the restaurant’s website….

In 2005, Arthur’s son, Steven, took over ownership of Prince Pizzeria and runs it with his wife, Trisha, who oversees finance, marketing and recently redesigned the Comedy Club and function Rooms. I personally spoke with Steve last Friday when I stopped in on the way home from work to grab a Pizza. I want to extend my condolences to Steve and the rest of the family on his fathers passing.