Waterfront To Topside



With its bevy of fresh seafood choices and flavorful cocktails, as well as the expansive patio perched at the edge of Boston Harbor, Tia’s on the Waterfront has become a fixture in the city’s dining scene, for both visitors and locals alike. When the bar and restaurant opened its doors in May of 1982, it represented an important breakthrough for Lori Lilly, a woman who made the bold decision to throw herself fully into the world of restaurants and dining at a crucial juncture of her life.

Lilly was born in Worcester, MA, and grew up in Milford. She attended Boston University and studied physical therapy. Despite enjoying the classes, she found that she did not enjoy the hospital settings that frequently accompany that line of work. Fortunately, Lilly did not have all of her eggs in one basket – she was spending her summers in Cape Cod, and keeping herself occupied. “[I] ended up working in 4 different restaurants each summer, and I loved it,” Lilly recalls. After graduating BU she decided to pursue that passion, rather than following her degree into a more sensible but less invigorating career.


She has never looked back. “At 22, I became general manager of Lily’s and Cricket’s in Faneuil Hall Marketplace which was grossing over $6 million dollars/year,” she remembers. “The hours were crazy and I loved it!”


Waterfront To Topside

Owner-Lori Lilly

So when Lilly earned the opportunity to open the doors of her own restaurant, it was a vindication of her choice. For 32 years she owned and operated Tia’s on the Waterfront, serving customers both fine cuisine and an iconic New England experience. Her memorable customers include a very enthusiastic group who showed up one night in 2011. “My best day at Tia’s on the Waterfront was when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, and showed up at Tia’s to sit on the patio,” Lilly recalls.

“They came with the cup and sat on our patio for three hours. They just wanted to share it with their fans.”

Kennebunk, Maine (along with its more well-known neighbor, Kennebunkport) moves at a slightly slower pace than downtown Boston. Regardless, it has been a New England destination for over 100 years. While most make their visits in the summertime, Lilly decided that she would make a more serious commitment to settling in. With help of chef and business partner Alex Fuentes, Lilly presided over the opening of Tia’s Topside in October of 2011. The newly renovated but historically grounded space welcomed its first guests with an open-style dining room, a solid-wood bar and a patio complete with fire pit, rocking chairs and of course, a fine view of Kennebunk’s waterfront.

The menu at Tia’s Topside is similar to the menu at Tia’s on the Waterfront, with an emphasis on New England seafood. This includes lobster, crab, clam cod, oysters and more. In a region with such an illustrious fishing history and vital ongoing relationship with the sea, it makes sense to bring in the fresh catch. “We always make it a point to buy locally,” Lilly says.

Three years ago, Lilly made the hard decision to sell Tia’s on the Waterfront. “[I] sold it three years ago to an operator who I thought would appreciate it and move to make it even better than it is,” she says. “I believe that it is an icon in Boston and will continue to be so.”


After over three decades at the helm of a bustling urban restaurant, Lilly had learned a few things about the business. She will be applying these lessons at Tia’s Topside for the foreseeable future. Among them is the importance of a certain spirit at the front of the house. “Front of the house is ‘attitude, attitude, attitude,’ ” she emphasizes. “My feeling has always been that you can teach anyone how to wait on guests, but you cannot teach a positive attitude.” She also stresses that skill comes at a price. “You must pay for talent. Far too many restaurants do not.” Lilly also recognizes the essential importance of cleanliness and organization, and the need to address the Achilles heel that plagues many business owners of her generation – social media. The most important ideal for Lilly however, is one that every restaurateur should hold sacred: love of the business.

Editor- David Sano 






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