Free meals for life? Not anymore for this family

From the view of anyone looking for a free meal, it was the handiwork of a genius.

When Frank Giuffrida sold his restaurant the Hilltop Steak House in Saugus, Mass. in 1988, he negotiated a deal that would give him and his family free meals -- for life. No waiting in the long lines at the popular restaurant, "unlimited" free quantities of food and drink for his family and guests, at the restaurant, lounge and adjoining butcher shop, and again -- for their entire lives, according to the Associated Press.

Giuffrida founded the restaurant, with its giant neon cactus and plastic cows, in 1961 and sold it in 1988, but he kept the land. The new owners, who took over in 1997, say the privileges expired when the land was sold in 2004, shortly after Giuffrida died at age 86 in December 2003.

In the 1970s and 1980s the Hilltop was one of the busiest independent restaurants in the nation, serving 20,000 customers a week and grossing nearly $27 million in 1986.

The family took advantage of the free perks. Giuffrida, his wife, their two daughters, and grandchildren dined at the restaurant "many times a month and sometimes with large parties," family lawyer Paul Samson told The Boson Globe.

The current owners say the privileges expired when the land was sold. An Essex County Superior Court judge upheld that decision last year without a trial. But Frank Giuffrida's widow, Irene, and two daughters have long argued that they never would have sold the property had they known it meant forfeiting their free steaks, the Globe reported. This week, the state Appeals Court, while upholding most of the lower court's decision, ruled that the Giuffridas should have the right to argue at a trial they were misled by the owners of the restaurant.

"They're very disappointed with what happened," Samson, the family's lawyer, told the Globe. "They feel that it hurts the memory of their father. He'd probably be rolling over in his grave if he knew what had happened."

Especially if a free steak hangs in the balance.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job hunt at

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