Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sam Wo just may reopen

Sam Wo, San Francisco Chinese restaurant once known for ‘world's rudest waiter,’ may stay open after all.

The owners of the Chinatown institution went before the Department of Public Health and Director Richard Lee to try to save the 100-year-old restaurant. The city reached out to Sam Wo on Friday clear a way to make it compliant and safe.

Sam Wo now has a list of things that need to be fixed in order to reopen, and with both sides ready and willing, the restaurant plans to do just that.

During the hearing, representatives from the fire department, building department and health department explained their issues with Sam Wo, and what needed to be done to correct them, both in the long and short term. There was also an extensive line of supporters during the public comment section; with priests, hippies, architects and politicians all testifying one after the other.

Among those immediate corrections: obtain a commercial refrigeration unit, install a designated handwashing sink, fix the fire escape, correct the electrical extension cord violations, and eliminate the ongoing rodent problems, among others. There is no timeline yet for reopening.

David Ho, a descendent of one of the restaurant's original owners, had decided to shut down after officials demanded extensive health and safety upgrades.

For those who did may not know, Sam Wo' became a cultural fixture in the 1970s through reports by the late San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen and the "Tales of the City" novels of Armistead Maupin.

The restaurant became famous by writing about the antics of Edsel Ford Fung, the waiter who was known for verbally abusing patrons and slamming dishes on tables.

Fung died in 1984 at age 57, but for a long time a sign listing the restaurant's house rules maintained his gruff demeanor. Among its warnings: "No Booze ... No Jive, No Coffee, Milk, Soft Drinks, Fortune Cookies."

Fung would refuse to serve people he didn't like the looks of and chastise customers who dared to complain when they were brought the wrong dishes. No one was ever certain if Fung was genuine or an act.

It's been said of Fung, "The Soup Nazi is the Dalai Lama compared to Edsel Ford Fung,"  "He is the Don Rickles of restaurants."
One devoted customer said it seemed odd for city inspectors to crack down on Sam Wo's managers now for failing to institute modern food safety techniques, when the restaurant's old-fashioned methods, such as chopping and preparing meat dishes on a wood table near the front door, was part of its charm.

The health inspection report noted a series of violations ranging from employees not washing their hands and contaminating food to rodent feces in the kitchen and improper food storage.

But the fact of the matter is, the restaurant is "too old. Everything's too old," said David Ho, 56. And bringing the rickety, three-story building into this century will be costly.