This is the first of Stocktonia’s “Slice of Stockton” stories by Sue Daugherty, featuring the people of Stockton and the businesses they run or own.
From morning to midday if you are craving hearty comfort food in a no fuss, but inviting friendly atmosphere, look no further than a long-standing local favorite, Sam’s Cafe on The Miracle Mile.
Several years ago I finally decided to give Sam’s a try. I’d heard good things and only driven past it a zillion times wondering what it was like inside. Well I wish I had not waited so long. Sam’s is what my Dad would have lovingly referred to as a “greasy spoon.” Great food, outdated ambiance, breakfast is served all day, large portions, fresh ingredients, no reservations, continuous coffee refills you never have to ask for, and the cost is well, quite reasonable. However, Sam’s Cafe takes it one step further. Sam Ou-Yang and his wife Mei will welcome you, thank you, and soon know your name. That’s how they dish it up.
Walking into Sam’s that fateful Saturday morning I was shocked to step into what seemed to be a sing along. A well-dressed white haired man in a crisp white shirt, suspenders and tie was playing his amplified acoustic guitar in the center of the small diner, singing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” The place was buzzing with happy energy. The people looked right at home while they sang along, sipped their coffee and poured syrup on their waffles. We were warmly greeted and told it would just be a few minutes for a table. No problem. My eyes and ears were happily taking it all in. Next up was Glen Campbell’s, “By the Time I get to Phoenix.”
Sam and Mei greet family members by name, shout good-byes and wish them a good day. Next we eyed a friend at the counter with his young daughter as she feasted on a pile of pancakes and strawberry jam. He was shocked to find out it was our first time. Grinning, he said, “It won’t be your last. I can guarantee that!” Wow. What had we been missing? Answer: A lot.
At the age of 24, speaking no English, Sam came to the U.S. from China. He found dishwashing work in the bay area at a Chinese restaurant. His co-workers spoke Chinese so he got along well, but soon realized if he was going to improve his lifestyle he needed to learn English, so he found work in an American restaurant, picked up cooking and learned the language over time. Along the way a friend told him people had a hard time remembering his Chinese first name – Ming Cui – and struggled with pronouncing it correctly. His friend suggested he choose an American name he liked. Sam sounded good.
“My customers today, well most of them I knew when they were in diapers and now they are bringing in their children in diapers.”Sam Ou-Yang, Owner of Sam’s Cafe.
Later Sam moved to Carrows Restaurant in Stockton on Charter Way and ended up managing it for 16 years. In 1995 he took over what was then Cinco de Mayo at his current location, and named it Sam’s Cafe.
For the past 27 years, Sam and his wife Mei have been serving up traditional American breakfasts, lunches and favorite Chinese dishes.
The pandemic shut Sam’s down for a year but he took advantage of that time to remodel. New floors, chairs, tables and a beautiful new counter now brighten the diner. And when he reopened, Sam decided to eliminate Chinese food from the menu. Customers tell Sam his food is better than ever. The change has allowed him to focus on quality signature dishes. Think cheeseburgers & fries, chicken fried steak, omelettes, waffles, French dip, club sandwich, meatloaf and gravy.
Dennis Kirkpatrick is the local crooner you can catch the first Saturday and Sunday of each moth from 10am to 1pm. Sam said Dennis had been a customer for about a year and half when he finally said “yes” to Dennis’ repeated requests to sing at the cafe. Sam was afraid his diner was too small of a space and with entertainment offered, the tables may not turn over frequently enough for him to serve everyone that wanted breakfast. Well, that was over eight years ago and the two have forged a strong friendship. Dennis warmly refers to Sam’s Cafe as the “The Cheers of the Miracle Mile,” adding, “Sam communicates with people in a way that does not require language.”
When Sam first signed the lease for his restaurantspace, the landlord said to him most businesses seem to be able to make it for seven or eight years and wished him luck.
Sam attributes his success to loyal customers and serving up good hearty food they can count on. “My customers today, well most of them I knew when they were in diapers and now they are bringing in their children in diapers. They always ask about my kids, I ask about theirs. It’s a wonderful thing having so many customers I call friends.”
Address: 2328 Pacific Avenue, Stockton
Days/Hours: Tues-Fri 8 a.m.-3 p.m.. Sat-Sun 7 a.m.-3 p.m.