Sam Wo, a renowned restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown with a 117-year history, may face closure as 68-year-old co-owner David Jitong Ho plans to retire from the business due to his physical limitations.
About the restaurant: Sam Wo, known for its affordable prices and colorful history, was originally established shortly after the 1906 earthquake. It is celebrated for its Cantonese cuisine and its role as a community hub. The restaurant also gained fame partly due to the legendary “rudest waiter” Edsel Ford Fung, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Uncertain future: While the restaurant faced closure in 2012, it reopened in 2015. However, the ongoing challenges of operating a restaurant, combined with Ho’s children opting not to continue the family business, have left the future of the restaurant uncertain. The Ho family hopes to find new owners by January 2025 when the current lease expires. If not, the restaurant may close forever.
“If I tell you I can continue to work, I am lying to you,” Ho told The San Francisco Standard. “My body cannot sustain the physical demands anymore.”
About the Ho family: Ho immigrated to the U.S. in 1981 and worked at Sam Wo, which his grandfather owned at the time. He later took over as chef-owner in 1986 when his grandfather died.
Despite the family’s deep commitment to the restaurant, Ho did not pressure his American-born children, Julie and Jason, to join the business. Although the siblings grew up at Sam Wo, they pursued different career paths outside of the restaurant industry due to the demanding nature of the business.
“I feel sad,” Julie, a nurse and mother of two, said. “It’s a huge part of my life. So it’s very hard for me to let it go.”
Sam Wo’s fate: The fate of Sam Wo depends on finding a younger family willing to take on the business as the current owners cannot sign long-term leases with the landlord until a successor is identified. Rising costs and labor shortage have further complicated the restaurant’s prospects.
If Sam Wo closes, there are plans to auction off historic items and create a recipe book to preserve the restaurant’s legacy. Despite the challenges, Ho remains philosophical about the situation, accepting the realities of life.