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Hilltop Steak House founder dies

SAUGUS -- The man who created steakhouse restaurants recognized by their huge neon cactus signs and oversized plastic replica cows has died of a stroke at the age of 86, according to family members and a restaurant manager.

For decades, Frank Giuffrida owned and operated the Hilltop Steak House, with locations in Saugus and Braintree. He died yesterday, according to Sheila O'Neil, manager of the Saugus restaurant on Route 1.

Giuffrida was a butcher from Lawrence when he opened the first Hilltop in Saugus in 1961 with $7,000 of his personal savings, according to the company website. When asked why he chose the Saugus location, Giuffrida once said he saw all the cars on the nearby roadway and recognized a business opportunity.

For decades, customers flocked to the Hilltop, easily located by a 68-foot-tall neon cactus sign. Near each restaurant entrance, Giuffrida displayed larger-than-life plastic cows. The Hilltop website proudly says the restaurants serve six tons of salad a week. The Saugus location was once one of the largest volume restaurants in the country.

Details about funeral arrangements were unknown.

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