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Is The Sam Woo Empire Crumbling?

Chandavkl Jul 10, 2008 09:19 PM

We know that the Sam Woo restaurants aren't a chain per se, but are rather more like some kind of loose confederation. Still I'm wondering if something significant is going on as the empire appears like it might be in the process of being dismantled. While there have always been ongoing branch openings and closings it seems that the closings are accelerating. A couple of years ago the Sam Woo Seafood in Chinatown became Sum Wu Seafood, then the Sam Woo Seafood and Dim Sum in Rowland Heights was recently sold to become Coconut Bay, then the Sam Woo Seafood in San Gabriel Square was sold to New Capital. However what really got me thinking was when the flagship Sam Woo BBQ in Chinatown became "Hong Kong BBQ" (the building signs and menus changed names, though the painted Sam Woo name in the front window hasn't been removed). And now, the second Sam Woo location on Gale Ave. in Rowland Heights (the BBQ location) is gone. It's now called Leung Kee, though the same staff is still there and the food seems the same. So what's the deal? Is good old Sam (as once personified by an uninformed restaurant reviewer) the man retiring or something?

  1. c
    Chandavkl Jul 12, 2008 09:12 AM

    Link

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    Leung Kee (formerly Sam Woo BBQ)
    18908 Gale Ave, Rowland Heights, CA 91748

    1. a
      AndyGanil Jul 12, 2008 12:29 AM

      My bud knows the family that owns the chain, if you've ever been to the quasi Chinatown in Vegas, they have the "official" Sam Woo BBQ there tucked into a tiny corner. I guess one family runs all of them. I think you can tell whether or not it's really Sam Woo or a knock - off by the taste of the duck or cha sau rou (char su). It is really unique in taste.

      2 Replies
      1. re: AndyGanil
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        Clinton Jul 12, 2008 07:51 AM

        I've been to the Sam Woo in Vegas several times when visiting. Also when it first opened up many years ago when the so-called LV "Chinatown" was only a half a block long. The only negative I have of them is their high prices. The food is way above average and the wait during lunch and dinner is extra long. I ordered the roast duck and rice which was around $12 or $13 if I remembered correctly. You could have ordered the same thing in LA for around half of that but where in LV could you get good duck like that? I've tried many Sam Woo places but that particular one is by far the best in my opinion. Service is not the best but the food is unbeatable if you don't mind the cost.

        1. re: Clinton
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          AndyGanil Jul 13, 2008 11:55 AM

          I know what kind of duck you're talking about. It's really really special. Unlike the other copycats here in LA, that have duck dry and tough like jerky, theirs is soft, flavorful and ugh, its wonderful. The roast ducks and Fullhouse Seafood Restaurant and those tiny booths they call restaurants are only good for soup!

      2. m
        mrhooks Jul 11, 2008 06:07 PM

        The Cerritos Sam Woo, despite painting the interior yellow, is just as it ever was. Which is to say, not great, but serviceable. Though I do love it when they have live prawns.

        1 Reply
        1. re: mrhooks
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          Chandavkl Jul 21, 2008 05:03 PM

          Link to Sam Woo Artesia

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          Sam Woo Seafood & BBQ
          19008 Pioneer Blvd, Cerritos, CA 90703

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          neilnewman Jul 11, 2008 05:04 PM

          C'mon out to the eight-one-great! Sam Woo at Sepulveda and Victory is still the greatest cheap eats ever. And with the 99 Ranch Market next door, it's a well-rounded adventure!

          1. Midlife Jul 11, 2008 01:00 PM

            This might help: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Woo_Restaurant

            Of course, Wikipedia entries are done by whoever chooses to do them and are not always corrected if innacurate, so.........??

            The site they refer to at the bottom of the article appears to be only for the Irvine location and doesn't mention any others: http://www.samwooirvine.com/index.html

            1. i
              Iceman Jul 11, 2008 12:03 PM

              I used to love the duck at the Sam Woo in Van Nuys, but admit it's been awhile since I've gone.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Iceman
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                Chandavkl Jul 15, 2008 02:14 PM

                Link to Van Nuys Sam Woo

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                Sam Woo Bar B Que Restaurant
                6450 Sepulveda Blvd, Van Nuys, CA 91411

              2. Chowpatty Jul 11, 2008 11:23 AM

                So, is the one Alhambra worth trying or not?

                3 Replies
                1. re: Chowpatty
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                  rameniac Jul 12, 2008 02:11 AM

                  the only one i ever liked was the sam woo ipse mentioned (valley and sixth st.), as they have a decent oily punch to their wonton soup. all the other ones have faded from my consciousness long ago!

                  1. re: rameniac
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                    Chandavkl Jul 13, 2008 01:05 PM

                    Link for Alhambra Sam Woo

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                    Sam Woo Barbeque
                    514 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA

                  2. re: Chowpatty
                    ipsedixit Jul 13, 2008 05:11 PM

                    The thing to get is the won ton soup, pork blood, and the ong choy. This place also has the best BBQ - fabulous soy sauce chicken and chicken feet.

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                    OCBites Jul 11, 2008 10:57 AM

                    It's my understanding that Sam Woo is not a person, but a Chinese term. That would explain the many changes and permutations. I don't think there ever was an 'empire', or let alone a unified chain.

                    To imagine Sam Woo as a person is akin to believing the HamBurgler is really after your Happy Meal. Methinks.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: OCBites
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                      Chandavkl Jul 11, 2008 11:11 AM

                      I guess my reference above was a little too subtle. "Sam" is Cantonese for three (pronounced "saam," not "sam") and Sam Woo means something like three harmonies, and clearly is not a person. However, tell that to the restaurant reviewers who have referred to Sam Woo the man, as if they had talked to him personally. I believe one of these reviews was for the defunct Costa Mesa branch of Sam Woo. And while there is clearly not a unified chain, I don't think they're totally unrelated either, since we'd otherwise have infringement lawsuits all over the place.

                      1. re: Chandavkl
                        ipsedixit Jul 11, 2008 11:24 AM

                        Even though I agree with you that some of the Sam Woo's are related, there were trademark infringement lawsuits many years ago, or at least one such lawsuit. Sam Woo lost because of the laches defense. That's when, I think, we started to see a proliferation of Sam Woo knockoffs.

                        1. re: ipsedixit
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                          Chandavkl Jul 11, 2008 04:59 PM

                          Do you know whether that involved the use of the actual Sam Woo name, or was it one of the copycat name restaurants that used variations in English but the same Chinese name? I recall SGV restaurants calling themselves Sam World, Same World and Same Ward back in the 1980s.

                          1. re: Chandavkl
                            ipsedixit Jul 11, 2008 09:51 PM

                            The latter -- i.e., same Chinese characters, but different variations of "Sam Woo"

                    2. monku Jul 10, 2008 10:33 PM

                      Went to the Sam Woo BBQ Chinatown a couple months ago right when they were going through the change and basically everything was the same with the same people working there and very similar menu.

                      Sam Woo Seafood in Chinatown was always a bit of a dump and I quit going many years ago, so nothing lost there. I think the same guy who was running it is still running it.

                      Ate at the Sam Woo BBQ in San Gabriel Square the other day and everything there seems like business as usual.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: monku
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                        AndyGanil Jul 12, 2008 12:25 AM

                        There's no way you could have eaten at the San Gabriel Square one. It's New Capital that specializes in Dim Sum, some of the best around. And it's for a great price too. 1.80 for EVERYTHING on weekdays and about 2.10 for EVERYTHING on weekends, and it lasts pretty long too, from the morning to about 2 in the afternoon. Sam Woo isn't there anymore though.

                        1. re: AndyGanil
                          monku Jul 12, 2008 06:23 AM

                          Sam Woo BBQ is on the ground floor on the north side. It's been there ever since the place was built.

                          1. re: monku
                            Servorg Jul 12, 2008 06:35 AM

                            Yes. San Gabriel Square is also confirming your Sam Woo sighting, monku. (g)

                            http://www.sangabrielsquare.com/

                            1. re: Servorg
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                              Chandavkl Jul 12, 2008 05:33 PM

                              Actually the website is badly out of date and is referring to the defunct Sam Woo Seafood. However, the Sam Woo BBQ is still downstairs.

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                              Sam Woo Barbecue Restaurant
                              140 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                              1. re: Chandavkl
                                Servorg Jul 12, 2008 05:37 PM

                                That's right. I totally forgot which one was still extant. The old one was on the top level, (I hope). These places need to have someone look at their web sites every decade or so. Thanks for the correction.

                        2. re: monku
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                          Chandavkl Jul 14, 2008 01:46 PM

                          Link to Hong Kong BBQ (formerly Sam Woo--Chinatown)

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                          Sam Woo Bar-B-Que Restaurant
                          803 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012

                          1. re: monku
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                            Chandavkl Jul 31, 2008 01:41 PM

                            Link to Sum Wu Seafood (formerly Sam Woo Seafood)

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                            Sum Woo Seafood Restaurant
                            727 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA

                          2. ipsedixit Jul 10, 2008 09:43 PM

                            Well, at least the one on Valley and Sixth St. in Alhambra is still going strong (right??).

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ipsedixit
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                              Chandavkl Jul 11, 2008 08:42 AM

                              When the Chinatown branch first converted over my first response was to see if any changes had been made at the Alhambra and Monterey Park branches. I may need to make another field trip out to the other branches. (That would be a good excuse for another visit to Toronto.)

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