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Sam Wo, Home to the World's Rudest Waiter, Closes After 100 Years

If you visited San Francisco’s Sam Wo Restaurant between 1960 and 1984, chances are you were waited on by Edsel Ford Fung. In order to remember that guy, you don’t have to search your mind long and hard. He’ll pop right up, perhaps from a collection of repressed memories, as the waiter who called you an idiot for ordering Wonton soup and groped your mother as she got up from the table to complain to the manager about him spilling your inaptly-chosen Wonton soup on her lap.


Rather than being fired for being incompetent and rude to hundreds of customers, Fung became a local celebrity and eventually made Sam Wo Restaurant famous. Crammed between two buildings in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the hole-in-the-wall restaurant was founded by three men in the beginning of the 20th century. They named it Sam Wo, which means “three in peace” in Chinese. Often referred to as a “dive Chinese restaurant”, Sam Wo had servers transporting dishes to the kitchen with a dumbwaiter, cooks preparing meat dishes on a wooden table near the front entrance, and a frank sign that read, “No booze, no B.S., no jive, no coffee, milk, fortune cookies”. No word on whether or not Fung wrote it.

It would be hard to find a server as ill-mannered as Fung was. Anything rude you could think of, Fung had already done it. As a head waiter, he’d greet customers with, “sit down and shut up”. He also insulted patrons’ appearances, slammed food on the table, complained about receiving 15% tips, refused to serve people he didn’t like the looks of, seat people with strangers, withheld forks or English menu translations from customers, groped women, photographed skirt-wearing girls as they went up the stairs, mixed up orders, spilled soup on customers, and started cleaning up tables before diners were finished with their meals. Regardless of whether his behavior was genuine or just an act, he caught the attention of two influential writers, Herb Caen (a San Francisco Chronicle columnist) and Armistead Maupin (the author of Tales of the City). Both men paid tribute to the rude waiter by writing about his unbelievably brash antics. Caen once referred him to the Don Rickles of restaurants, and he was a recurring character in Maupin’s famous novels. He became a San Francisco legend, as evidenced by his face being painted in “Gold Mountain”, a mural of Chinese contributions to American history. Fung died in 1984 at age 57, but people still talk about him today as much as they did back then. Sam Wo is still as popular as ever, and is still referred to as “home of the world’s rudest waiter”.

However, people can no longer stop by for fresh rice noodles and Chinese comfort food, because Sam Wo closed their doors on April 20th. After being inspected by health officials, the restaurant got in huge trouble. The health officials found rodent droppings on the kitchen floor, poor employee hand-washing standards, and improper food storage among many other violations. David Ho, a descendent of one of the restaurant’s founding fathers, made the difficult decision to close the doors because the restaurant was too old to meet modern requirements and he couldn’t afford to perform the extensive health and safety upgrades demanded by the health officials.


On Sam Wo’s last day, loyal customers lined up around the block for a final meal at the famous restaurant. After seeing how saddened people were at the restaurant’s closing, Ho decided to try and re-open the restaurant. He and his daughter, Julie, held meetings with the Department of Public Health, community leaders, and city officials about meeting health code and fire code requirements. They vowed that they would try their best to re-open their doors after a major overhaul. However, there’s no timeline yet, but that didn’t keep many Sam Wo fans from celebrating the fact that Edsel Ford Fung doesn’t have to find a new place to haunt.
by: Chiara Fucarino


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