Have fond memories of eating at Sam Wo? Was lucky enough to get harassed by Edsel Ford Fong? Share your story with us!
Two of us were meeting some friends at Sam Wo's for dinner in the mid-seventies. I had never been there before but had been told it was a must experience in SF.
When we arrived late, through the kitchen up the stairs to the dinning room, we saw some of our group seated at a table and the others standing at the sink rinsing dishes. The group said that the table was not cleared so the waiter, Edsel Ford Fong, had ordered them to clear the table and rinse all the dishes if they wanted to be served. When Eddy saw us at the table without enough chairs, he ordered a couple at another table to surrender their chairs to us because we were bigger tippers, and they obliged eating the rest of their meal standing up.
When our friends returned from rinsing dishes, we were told to write down our own orders without getting a menu. When the food arrived, he told us to share our food with each other and the table next to us. The result was a rousing chorus of "Pass, Pass, Pass.." as we struggled to get a tidbit before having to pass the food on command. By the end of the meal, most of the floor was involved in the craziness.
I have always remembered it as being one of the best dining experiences in my life. If you went to Sam Wo's for anything other than this type of madness, then shame on you.
You are surely missed, but always remembered, Sam Wo's and late great Mr Edsel Ford Fong. BTW: We did leave a BIG tip.
In the late 60's a bunch of us hippies from Marin came to our weekly WO on a Friday night. About 6-8 of us doing the "noodle and roll" stuff out thing. Edsel cut his finger, seriously! We went into action! I drove him to the hospital/clinic my friends did the floor cover and service and clean-up thing. This was one guy that you never messed with and when he had a need, all whould stand up! Great Guy, he kissed my Ma (or course if you knew Edsel, he kissed everybody and even got a few tit squeezes into his nightly repertoire! The Guy?
Summer of 1969, my husband & I dating, living @ Swanson's Residence Club (now the San Francisco Residence Club) on California & Powell. Took my 8 year-old niece from Palo Alto to dinner @ Sam Wo's while her mom was at a ballet lesson in the city. What fun -- the narrow stairway, the kitchen, the waiter who play-acted gruff but meant no harm, the dumb waiter, delicious food. It's an evening we have always remembered.
My first visit to Sam Wo was, I think, 1968 while in high school, and I went often since then. Many times I enjoyed the quintessential SF evening of the Dead at the Fillmore or Winterland followed by a late-night visit to Sam Wo. The perfect order at Wo was a bowl of creamy hot jook with a fried cruller to dip in it, a roast pork noodle roll, a deluxe raw fish salad and a plate of tomato beef chow mein. If I was on death row that would be my last meal.
Edsel never failed to entertain. Some of my favorite Edsel quotes: If someone took too long reading the menu, he’d bark at them, “What is this, a library?” If I brought a date and he found her attractive, he would always exclaim, “Not too shabby!” When he laid down the check, he would say, “Small check, big tip!”
There was an item on the menu, fried shrimp, that was four fried shrimp on a little plate. In the days when a plate of chow fun was 65 cents, it was like $1.30. Edsel would NOT let you order it. For fun we would order it, and he would yell, “No – it’s a rip-off!” One night we decided to really stand our ground, and demand over and over that we wanted the fried shrimp. We had quite a row but of course the fried shrimp never came.
Once I was there with my sister-in-law, who is a very proper sort of person. Edsel could really tell when he was pushing someone’s buttons, and he really lit into her. It ended with him thrusting his sweaty, grizzled face right against hers while taunting her with, “Give me a kiss, baby!” Needless to say, she didn’t relish her visit.
One night I was eating there and Edsel asked me to drive him across town to attend the graduation of his son from San Francisco State. Unfortunately, although I often drove, that time I had come on public transport. I was sorry to not have the undoubtedly trippy experience of being with Edsel in a different context.
There will never be another place like Sam Wo.
My dad started coming after WWII, started taking me as a child in the 50s. He showed me his initials and "'46" carved into a stool at the table in the window on the ground floor. He called Edsel "Eddie", Eddie called him "Jim". Eddie knew what to bring: Chinese doughnut, shrimp jook, raw fish salad. He squeezed the lemon on the salad, because I wasn't strong enough to get as much on as he recommended. An Edsel story: in the 60s he was serving a tourist family, looked down the young teen daughter's dress and said, "Hmm, nice little apples!" They stormed out, returned with a beat cop, who gave Eddie a stern talking to and assured the parents that whatever he was saying in Chinese meant, "I'm sorry", though he didn't seem particularly contrite. Edsel was certainly not what you'd call "politically correct".
It was around 1968, when I had just turned 18, and my late younger brother Laurence was 16. We took our first trip alone, from Los Angeles to San Francisco by Greyhound bus, and stayed at the YMCA hotel. Even when we were little kids my brother was a great fan of Chinese food -- my parents took us to a local place called the "Wan-Q", and by the time my brother was 10 my parents let him do most of the ordering of our meals. He knew the best things on the menu. So he already knew about Sam Wo's and said we had to go there, and that we had to get Edsel as our waiter. So that's just what we did. We ended up in a tiny room on an upper floor, next to a dumbwaiter that brought the food up. When Edsel came to our table he said "Do you want to do it your way or do you want to do it my way?" (meaning did we want to place our own order, or let him choose the items for us). So we did it his way. I don't remember at all what we ate, and, sadly, my brother, who would have remembered, is no longer with us. But my memory of that experience with Edsel will remain with me forever.
Hue Walker Bumgarner-Kirby
Would have to be summer of 1982.... Our daughter was 6 yrs. old and very clumsy with chop sticks. Discovered Sam Wo's from a "Best of the Bay" paper, "best waiter, Edsel Ford Wong"!
We went up a couple of flights and sat in EFW's space, he spent a lot of his time standing at the window as if ignoring folk, but was almost a mind reader at knowing exactly when to appear at the table and give us that "what do you need now?" Look of his.... As our little one struggled with her noodles, EFW sauntered by and a fork appeared at her elbow as if by magic! It was a great moment and made Sam Wo's a must stop for us on any visits to the Bay Area. So sad to see its old form is gone, looking forward to seeing the new form!
Natalie L. Yeager
I believe it was 1999, a good friend of mine told me, he would take me to the best place in china town. I never knew I would be a regular customer for the next 10+ years. I can say Sam Wo restaurant was like eating in my favorite family friends kitchen. I lived in North Beach at the time, I would go at least once a week. When I moved back home to Redwood City, I would still drive to SF on late nights if Sam Wo BBQ pork rice noodle rolls would cross my mind. I still miss it so much. and I miss the respect I had for all the hard work of the family. xox miss you guys and hope to see you again.
Timothy D. Healy
In the early 70's my wife,than girlfriend was attending Mills College in Oakland and we would go to San Francisco every weekend,we would finish off our dates with a meal at Sam's .I always found Edsel Ford Fong to be nice and funny, though a bit loud and bossy.My wife and I arenot together now but those memories of San Francisco and Sam Wo's are amoung the happyest of my lifde.
Me and my family come to Sam Wo every time we drop by Frisco, why? cause the pork roll they make are the MOST delicious pork roll I have ever eaten. Sometime i would drive all the way there just to get some, thats' how good it is. I recall a time when we ask for pork roll and the lady said you guys dont want "ment' we miss took it for veggies and said yes and ended up with veggie only roll. It was funny but me and my brother still ate and bought some more after cause it was really good. I really miss that place. Hope you guys open up soon so i can take my girlfriend there cause she dont know what she's missing out.
First, I'm not a huge Chinese food fan though my husband is and will bring me to restaurants on a regular basis to get his fill. However, I LOVE Sam Wo's - best Chinese food ever.
Everytime we are in SF, we visit there and usually meet up with a cousin for a good visit and fill up. Some trips we go two days in a row, just to ensure we had the chance to eat all our favorite dishes.
So who cares that they are rude and pushy with the, "Hurry up, you order now!" and dishes tossed on the tables, its all part of the ambience. The three story, crazy skinny building, the use of the dumb waiters, even more ambience, walking through the kitchen to make your way upstairs to then beg for a seat on one of the wonky stools, again it just ups the ante. You have to have experienced it and eaten Sam Wo's food to have truly visited SF and Chinatown.
Gregory C. Ford
Hi, Let me start by saying how blessed I feel for being a guest at Sam Wo's and having been served.. or should I say Helping Edsel Ford Fong everytime I came in..
It was 1979 (at 20 years old )and I was a roller skater. My friend grew up in SF and knew all the best spots and Sam Wo was "The Best".. We would skate through the kitchen and the 6 or seven men would hurry us up the stairs to the 2nd floor. We got lucky on one perticular day and got a seat. Mr. Fong instantly made me wipe the table get water and even fill water for the other tables. Then he threw the order ticket on the table and had mne write down the orders.. I handed back the tickets and he threw it down and said "ADD IT UP!". Then the food would come up thru the wall on a pulley system from down in the kitchen and Edsel would order me to deliver the food..I have enjoyed sharing this story with many over the last 30+ years. Thank you Edsel Ford Fong and Sam Wo's for blessing me with such a lovely memory.
My favorite place in San Fransisco! <3 peace gf