'Rudest waiter' restaurant may stay open after all

SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco Chinese restaurant once known for having "the world's rudest waiter" may not be closing for good after all.

The owners of Sam Wo restaurant are scheduled to plead their case to the city's Public Health Department at a hearing on Tuesday. Owner David Ho's daughter, Julie, told the San Francisco Chronicle the restaurant closed over the weekend, but nothing is definite beyond that. "This restaurant is my life," she told the newspaper.

Health officials had demanded changes after finding violations including rodent activity, but the restaurant's owners had said the 100-year-old, hole-in-the-wall eatery in Chinatown was just too old. They had planned to serve their last meals Saturday.

At Tuesday's meeting, the owners must present their plans to bring the restaurant back up to code, Health Department spokeswoman Eileen Shields told the Chronicle. Those plans would then have to be approved and implemented before Sam Wo could reopen.

Word of the restaurant's closing saddened its customers, who lined up down the block to get a seat at one of its eight lunch tables on Friday. "I know change is good, but sometimes you want to hold onto the happy memories," said customer Darlene Lee, 71, who has been coming to the restaurant for 60 years.

For those who did not grow up dining at Sam Wo, it became a cultural mainstay in the 1970s through reports by the late San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen and the "Tales of the City" novels of Armistead Maupin. Both men immortalized the restaurant by writing about the antics of Edsel Ford Fung. Dubbed "the world's rudest waiter," Fung was known for verbally abusing patrons and slamming dishes on tables.

"The Soup Nazi is the Dalai Lama compared to Edsel Ford Fung," said longtime patron Sam Begler, as he tucked into pork rolls and chow mein. "He is the Don Rickles of restaurants."

Fung died in 1984 at age 57, but for a long time a sign listing the restaurant's house rules maintained his gruff demeanor. Among its warnings: "No Booze ... No Jive, No Coffee, Milk, Soft Drinks, Fortune Cookies."

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