Longtime owners say goodbye to San Francisco restaurant

Practically 42 years after David Jitung Ho walked into Sam Wu, a legendary restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown, he made the choice to stop.

“If I let you know I can preserve working, I am mendacity to you,” the 68-year-old advised The Normal in Cantonese. “My physique cannot deal with the bodily calls for anymore.”

The restaurant is understood for its cheap costs, in addition to its look in a Conan O’Brien sketch and for being the house of San Francisco’s “rudeest bartender,” Edsel.

An enthralling Chinatown establishment for greater than a century, it closed in 2012 after a wave of security considerations and well being code violations, later reopening in 2015.

Till the pandemic hit, Sam Wu was a preferred vacation spot for hungry late-night visitors tucking into Singapore-style stir-fried noodles and rice porridge often known as gok.

Regardless of how widespread a restaurant is, conserving it open is hard.

Hu feels overwhelmed, and his two youngsters – each American-born Chinese language – have chosen to not observe their father into the household enterprise. The household is now hoping new house owners will enter the image by January 2025, when the present lease expires.

If no new buyers are discovered, Sam Wo could shut for good.

Ho household

He immigrated to the US in 1981, and his first job was at Sam Wu, which his grandfather owned in these days. The older man sponsored Ho’s migration to San Francisco in order that he might work within the restaurant.

In 1986, Hu’s grandfather died, and he took over as chef-owner. Like many different immigrant entrepreneurs, the household devoted a long time of their lives to this enterprise.

“I don’t know what the skin world appears to be like like, as a result of I spend greater than 10 hours a day within the restaurant,” he stated with tears in his eyes. “All as a result of I don’t have a great academic background.”

David Jitung Ho stands inside Sam Wu’s kitchen the place he spent 42 years of his life. | supply: Han Li/The Normal

He stated that Chinese language tradition emphasizes respect for the aged, so he felt obligated to do what his grandfather needed. However he refused to push his American-born youngsters to observe in his footsteps.

Nonetheless, Julie and Jason Ho, his daughter and son, grew up in Sam Wu. They advised The Normal that they’ve each loved serving to out since they have been youngsters, interacting with visitors and serving completely different generations of normal prospects.

“I really feel unhappy,” stated Julie, a nurse and mom of two. “It is a large a part of my life. So it’s extremely laborious for me to let go.”

Nonetheless, she said that she was not capable of spend high quality time together with her father whereas rising up as a result of her father was within the restaurant on a regular basis, and she or he didn’t need that for her youngsters. Jason’s ardour is legislation enforcement, not toiling within the kitchen. The siblings agreed that the bodily and psychological calls for required by such work have been one thing they may not deal with.

“My school expertise was like: work, go to highschool, work, go to highschool,” Jason stated.

What is going to occur to Sam Wu?

The possession workforce can’t signal long-term leases with the owner till they discover a youthful household prepared to take over the enterprise, stated Stephen Lee, investor and co-founder of the brand new Sam Wo.

Rick and Jenny Ferris arrive at Sam Wo, their favourite spot in San Francisco’s Chinatown on Might 12, 2022. | supply: Camille Cohen/The Normal

The proprietor is Yin Ping Affiliation, a small household enterprise based mostly in Chinatown. In response to Lee, they will prolong the lease from month to month.

Lee and the opposite buyers don’t handle Sam Wo’s day-to-day operations. He stated that they had put plenty of effort into getting the place again up and working, and it was a disgrace to see it go, not solely due to the Ho household’s departure but in addition due to rising prices, a still-empty downtown and labor shortages.

“We now have to face the unhappy fact and actuality,” he advised me. “The town has to face this case as effectively.”

If Sam Wo closes its doorways in a bit of greater than a 12 months, they could nonetheless preserve the trademark — however they’ll public sale off most of the restaurant’s historic parts, such because the signal and outdated photographs, Lee stated. He is wanting ahead to making a recipe e-book for Sam Wo’s signature dishes, reminiscent of roast pork rolls, braised beef noodle soup, and duck fried rice.

For his half, he’s not unhappy.

He added: “That is life, and we have now to take care of it.” “Do what you need once you’re younger.”

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