Dating back to 1912, Sam Wo was one of the oldest restaurants in Chinatown, with roots linked to the recovery of the community after the earthquake and fire. In its early years, it operated exclusively as a take-out restaurant, but dine-in service was added as the community prospered and customers had more time and money to spend dining out. In the 1950s, it was a popular hangout for members of the Beat Generation, who frequented the restaurant to order from its "secret menu." The restaurant also gained widespread attention for its notorious server, Edsel Ford Fung, who earned the title "world's rudest waiter" from San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. Though Fung passed away in 1984, many patrons continue to tell stories about his unusual behavior, and other restaurant staff carried on his legacy of unique entertainment.
Sam Wo closed its doors in early 2012 as a result of health and fire code violations, but the "Save Sam Wo Coalition," comprised of Board of Supervisors President David Chu, Chinatown neighborhood leaders, and the owners, rallied to help raise funds for renovations. The Ho family, which has owned the business for more than 50 years, is committed to preserving the menu and overall experience of dining at Sam Wo as future plans develop.
In September 2013, the Ho family announced that a dispute with the landlord would prevent the reopening of the restaurant in its original home at 813 Washington Street. Though the family is seeking a new location for its beloved business, its future remains uncertain.