One of Chinatown’s oldest and most storied restaurants was forced to shut down Friday due to health, fire and building code violations, but owners want to find a way to keep it running.
Sam Wo — the eatery once noted for its legendarily rude waiter Edsel Ford Fung, who semi-jokingly berated customers by demanding that they write down their orders and be “precise and concise, with no B.S. and no jive” — is scheduled for a hearing this morning that could determine whether it can remain a quirky San Francisco fixture.
Owners will have to answer for issues such as improper food temperatures and the presence of rodents and rodent feces on food surfaces, plus worker safety violations due to structural issues at the aging three-story restaurant where patrons actually pass through the kitchen to get to the upstairs dining rooms.
The Department of Public Health will hear the restaurant’s plan to rectify the issues, although longtime server Julie Ho, the daughter of owner David Ho, said the cost of compliance is unknown.
Upon news of the closure, she said the restaurant experienced lines out the door Friday.
“After seeing the support of our customers, I just don’t want to let them down,” she said. “It was really emotional. The restaurant staying open is beyond just our family. It’s for Chinatown and it’s for San Francisco.”
Terrence Hong, a senior environmental health inspector with the health department, said the restaurant was forced to close earlier this year for similar violations, but it opened again within hours. The recent violations will likely force a longer closure, he said.
“We do want to work with people, but the violations were as such that we came back within a week, and the behavior doesn’t change,” Hong said.
Eileen Shields, a spokeswoman for the health department, said the popularity of the eatery became evident when the violations came about. She said the restaurant could be facing significant work to come into compliance, although it seems to be a place “worth saving.”
“We’re going to do everything to help them do that,” Shields said.
Julie Ho described the situation as “one crazy mess” and said the turn of events surprised her.
“That’s what we’re scratching our heads about,” Julie Ho said. “I went in there Wednesday morning, talking about getting a new refrigerator. When I’m leaving the restaurant, I’m crying because we’re shutting down.”