The family of Sam’s Hof Brau founder Sam Gordon has resumed ownership of the restaurant after decades of outside operators.
As of Saturday, Gordon’s family will take over management of the 58-year-old, perennially popular cafeteria-style carvery on Watt Avenue in Sacramento. The hofbrau will be closed Friday as part of the transition but will reopen Saturday with the same menu and staffing, said Gordon’s grandson Ken Schlesinger.
Schlesinger’s son Mickey will help oversee the restaurant’s operation, but the family is keeping longtime managers Pedro Tirado and Cecil Jackson in place.
“A lot of the clientele that comes here on a regular basis has been coming here for years and years and years, and the idea is to keep everything exactly the same,” Mickey Schlesinger said.
Gordon opened the hofbrau on Watt in 1959. His one-time Northern California empire included other restaurants and the Sam’s Town entertainment center/restaurant in Cameron Park. He died in 1998 at age 91.
The family owns the shopping center in which Sam’s sits and where the Watt Avenue Tower Records store (now a Goodwill) also once stood. Lease negotiations with the restaurant’s most recent operator, Plaza Hof Brau Inc., had lasted a few months, Ken Schlesinger said, when the family decided to take over.
“We couldn’t make the right deal, and my son wanted to get back in the restaurant business,” Ken Schlesinger said. Mickey Schlesinger once managed a fine-dining restaurant in Los Angeles and owned a yogurt shop there.
Plaza Hofbrau Inc., an ownership group that included employees of Mikuni Sushi’s corporate office, took over Sam’s Hof Brau in 2007 from longtime owner Pete Lennarz.
“We have enjoyed operating a nostalgic, historic restaurant in the Sacramento region for the past 10 years,” Plaza Hof Brau Inc. spokeswoman Jeanne Mabry said Thursday. “With our lease coming due, the landlord expressed interest in keeping the business in the family, and that made sense to us.”
Sam’s Hof Brau and 10 other restaurants started by Gordon were sold to the Denny’s company in the 1960s. Denny’s later sold them off individually.
At 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, a 15-deep line of people was already waiting to order pastrami and French dip sandwiches at Sam’s, a 7,000-square-foot yet cozy spot lined with brick, wood paneling and red velveteen wallpaper.
Sam’s has helped inspire something of a recent hofbrau renaissance in Sacramento. Chef/restaurateur Michael Thiemann of Empress Tavern and Tom Schnetz of Oakhaus have cited Sam’s as an inspiration for their own places.
Ken Schlesinger said he and his brother, Howard, first entered the family business as dishwashers at a San Francisco restaurant co-owned by his grandfather, and later helped run Sam’s Town. Mickey Schlesinger has never worked for a Sam’s operation but is getting up to speed thanks to longtime customers who remember the place from when his grandfather was still around.
“I had lunch the other day with someone who has been coming here since he is 30, and now he is 82,” Mickey said. “It’s super-exciting, because I get to hear all these cool stories.”