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Is The Sam Woo Empire Crumbling?

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?

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

    1 Reply
    1. re: ipsedixit

      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.)

    2. 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

        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

          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

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

            http://www.sangabrielsquare.com/

            1. re: Servorg

              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

                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

          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

            Link to Sum Wu Seafood (formerly Sam Woo Seafood)

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

          2. 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

              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

                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

                  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

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

            2. So, is the one Alhambra worth trying or not?

              3 Replies
              1. re: Chowpatty

                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

                  Link for Alhambra Sam Woo

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                  Sam Woo Barbeque
                  514 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA

                2. re: Chowpatty

                  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.

                3. 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

                    Link to Van Nuys Sam Woo

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

                  2. This might help: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Woo_...

                    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. 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. 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

                          Link to Sam Woo Artesia

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

                        2. 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

                            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

                              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. Link

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