One of Hong Kong’s oldest and most famous steakhouses is facing closure due to a massive rent spike from the space’s new landlord.
Founded by veteran hotel chef Yip Luen (a.k.a. Uncle Sammy) and three other friends in 1969, Sammy’s Kitchen is famous for its “old Hong Kong” vibe and unique “Sammy’s sauce”… oh, and of course, that iconic neon cow sign that hung over the streets of Sai Wan for decades. The beloved sign, which advertised the restaurant’s Angus beef, was one of Sai Wan’s landmarks until the government ordered it to be taken down two years ago (don’t worry – it was collected by museum curators and will be displayed at the West Cow-loon Cultural District soon enough).
Uncle Sammy’s daughter, Yip Fung-yee, who runs the restaurant’s daily operations, told Apple Daily that the shop space had a change of ownership in June and the new landlord is now asking for HKD140,000-160,000 a month, almost double the rent that they currently pay.
Yip said she tried to negotiate for lower rent, but the landlord wouldn’t budge. At the moment, she is looking for a new space to relocate the business to but if she fails, the restaurant will close its doors for the last time on September 15.
Uncle Sammy, who’s now 86, told Apple Daily, “It’s so hard to run a business nowadays. Rent is expensive, supplies are expensive.”
The octogenarian has spent decades in the food and beverage industry, starting as a dishwasher at a Repulse Bay hotel when he was just 12 and working his way to the kitchens of luxury hotels such as the Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental, and the now-defunct Hilton.
Sammy’s Kitchen was a revolution in Hong Kong when it first opened. Back then, Angus beef would only be served at luxury hotels, but Uncle Sammy had a vision of serving prime beef to people from all walks of life, utilizing his hospitality knowhow to create a top-notch experience.
After nine years at its first location in Sai Ying Pun, the restaurant relocated to its current space on Queen’s Road West, where it has been dishing out steak and Sammy’s sauce to hungry customers for 39 years. The steakhouse was at its prime during the colonial period, when it counted then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, top government officials, actor and director Stephen Chow, and singer Alan Tam among its customers.
The legendary restaurant hit a low point in 2003, when its business was badly affected by the SARS outbreak, resulting in its second location in Aberdeen being closed. However, instead of letting go of the staff from the Aberdeen branch, Uncle Sammy insisted on giving them jobs at the Sai Wan shop.