In 1959, Sam Gordon opened Sam’s Hof Brau on Watt Avenue. It was the happening spot to have a drink and impress someone on a date, according to Gordon’s great-grandson, Mickey Schlesinger. Through a few ownership changes, the Sacramento landmark maintained the loyalty of longtime customers by serving cafeteria-style eats in a nonfussy environment. The latest ownership change brought Sam’s Hof Brau back to Gordon’s family in 2017. We spoke with Schlesinger about preserving his great-grandfather’s restaurant and attracting new Sam’s fans.
What changes have you made?
We were conscious of what Sam’s means to a lot of people, but as we came up on our 60th year the restaurant needed a little love. Our goal during the renovation was primarily to update the equipment, and we took the opportunity to make other improvements. We added two new stations. We also added high-top tables to the bar area and included a bar-bites menu. We kept the same feel and vibe of the restaurant.
Did you change the original recipes?
All of the regular menu items are still there, and the recipes have not changed one bit. We added a few items, including vegetarian dishes and a salad bar.
What’s the reaction been to the changes?
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Customers were pleasantly surprised we’d kept the same menu and the restaurant’s layout hadn’t changed. Whenever I’m at Sam’s, people share stories with me about my great-grandfather, as well as how they came here with their parents and now visit with their children, or they had their first date here and return to celebrate their anniversaries.
My 93-year-old grandmother, Sam’s daughter, came into the restaurant the day before we reopened and told me, ‘Sam would be proud of you right now.’ She had tears in her eyes. She spent all day helping us put the restaurant back together.
What’s it like to keep the original essence of Sam’s while trying to attract new customers?
We wanted to improve but didn’t want to alienate Sam’s regulars. We knew we had to reach a new demographic in order to sustain the business over the next 60 years. Most of our staff has been here for decades, so that helps. We take pride in treating the restaurant like a mom-and-pop place rather than a corporation-owned restaurant.
2500 Watt Ave.; (916) 482-2175; originalsamshofbrau.com