|Frankly, this kitchen doesn't look so bad (Chron photo)|
David Ho has owned Sam Wo for three decades, but following a meeting with the San Francisco public health and fire departments this week, is closing the restaurant.I have visited Sam Wo on three occasions in the past ten years. It was the subject of one of the first posts on this humble journal. I'm sorry that my 2003 prediction is turning out to be correct. "If Sam Wo is here 20 years from now, I'll be very surprised."
"Too old. Everything's too old," said Ho, who is 56. "The building is too old. It's very sad."
Indeed, although it has been embraced by patrons, the creaky restaurant proved to be a challenge for the city's inspectors. Diners enter through the street-level kitchen to go up to the tiny dining rooms on the second and third floors; a dumbwaiter hums from floor to floor, delivering food.
Despite the funky layout of the "skinny old eating place" (as [columnist Herb] Caen once called it), Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said there was no record of complaints.
However, that wasn't the case at the health department.
"We had a lot of food safety issues," said Lisa O'Malley, a supervisor at the Department of Public Health. After a routine inspection in March found violations ranging from "rodent activity" to improper food storage to kitchen disrepair, the department decided action was needed.
"It's sort of like going back in time," O'Malley said. "I suspect the kitchen hasn't been remodeled since the '40s. It's not sustaining safe practices."
If only San Francisco regulators would follow the SEC approach: disclose all known issues and problems, and let the investors/customers/diners decide whether the benefits of eating there are worth the risks. But such forbearance would be uncharacteristic of bureaucrats, and in the name of public safety another institution passes into history.
Here is the ABC 7 video:
[Update: hold the cards, flowers, and lamentations. The public health hearing on Tuesday offers a glimmer of hope that all is not lost.]