Hilltop Steak House once ruled Route 1 in Saugus


By Sharon Oliver, Contributing Editor

he Hilltop Steak House on Route 1 in Saugus was reported to be the highest-grossing and busiest restaurant in the entire country during its heyday.Photo/Elizabeth Thomsen Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED)
The Hilltop Steak House on Route 1 in Saugus was reported to be the highest-grossing and busiest restaurant in the entire country during its heyday.
Photo/Elizabeth Thomsen
Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED)

SAUGUS – Once reported to be the highest-grossing and busiest restaurant in the entire country by Restaurants & Institutions magazine, the Hilltop Steak House was on top of its game when it came to low prices and large portions of food. For more than 50 years, the Hilltop had been able to draw customers from far and wide.


Immense popularity

According to the late owner Frank Giuffrida, as many as 42,000 customers came through the doors in just one week in 1988. Located off bustling Route 1, the legendary steakhouse that opened in 1961 not only drew in locals but also drew the attention of travelers due to its reputation, outdoor decorations of plastic cows and the famous 68-foot-high neon cactus. Moreover, western-themed dining rooms were given names like Carson City, Dodge City, Kansas City, Santa Fe, Sioux City and Virginia City.

The Hilltop was so popular that Giuffrida was featured in the same May 1988 issue of People magazine where newlyweds Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson graced the cover with their wedding photo. 

During its heyday, the restaurant was able to serve up to 6,500 pounds of meat per day, thanks to its separate butcher shop which was just as popular as the main dining area. Although reservations and credit cards were not accepted until the 1990s and throngs of hungry customers did not mind the long wait, the restaurant stayed one of the busiest in America for over three decades. At one point, Hilltop served three times the volume of the nation’s second-largest restaurant, Manhattan’s Tavern on the Green.


Regulars recount memories

Nancy Tataronis wrote on the Lynn and North Shore History Group Facebook page: “Hilltop was my father’s favorite restaurant. I remember waiting in line to get in and when we reached the huge steers, knew we were almost there.”

Karen Mersicano added: “Good old days for sure, worked there for 25 years.”

Amanda Kohut wrote: “I loved this place—went every year on my birthday and would joke about stealing the banjo off the wall…my best friend went to the auction after they closed and surprised me with the banjo and some other items for my birthday! Used to go with my nana and great nana when I was little…a lot of memories…I really miss that place.” 


Gone but not forgotten

Hundreds of people lined up for one last meal before Hilltop closed its doors forever in October 2013. Soon afterwards, items from plates to menus from the restaurant were found on eBay after the owners claimed customers were stealing them to sell as memorabilia. Large items were eventually sold at auction and the Hilltop Butcher Shop, which had moved to Weymouth in 2007, closed in 2015.

When asked which eating establishments do they miss in the Bay State, quite a few locals and visitors will have Hilltop Steak House on the top of their list. They would reminisce over the 18-ounce sirloins, filet mignons, tenderloins, iceberg salads and other dishes. Not many places are equipped to accommodate nearly 1,500 customers nor have a parking lot that allows space for nearly that number of vehicles. It was a one-of-a-kind restaurant and beloved tourist attraction.

The kitschy mega-restaurant perched atop a hilltop began as a career dream while Frank Giuffrida was on a European honeymoon with his bride Irene in 1961. Although it would take years before his full vision would come to pass and despite warnings from an uncle about opening a restaurant on Route 1 due to the surrounding seedy motels and bars, the Hilltop Steak House obtained great success.

Lisa Trapasso, a friend of one of Giuffrida’s daughters, Tina Giuffrida Primavera, wrote in a school project about Hilltop in 1990, “He had meat in his veins.” And judging from Frank Giuffrida’s decades-long success, perhaps he did.



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