374 Bush Street
San Francisco, CA 94104
The history of Sam’s Grill actually stretches back to 1867, when an Irishman began selling the delicious fresh oysters that were abundant in San Francisco Bay. His stall was in the open air market at the base of California Street, which probably looked very similar to the open air markets we find today in many third world countries. In the pungent area where vendors hawked fresh fish, crabs and seafood, Michael Molan Moraghan founded an institution that thrives in the City’s financial district today.
Mr. Moraghan was apparently a very savvy businessman. By the 1890’s, his company had developed into the City’s leading seafood establishment, supplying fresh fish and shellfish to the City’s best restaurants and hotels. But his specialty continued to be local oysters harvested from the Bay tidelands near Burlingame. Mr. Moraghan was then known as “The Oyster King.”
The California Market was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, but the Moraghan business continued to thrive. For a time it operated from various addresses around the City, but in 1919 it rejoined the City’s other oyster dealers in a rebuilt California Market, located between California and Pine Streets, where the Bank of America Building stands today. By that time the operation was known as the Burlingame Oyster Company.
In the meantime, Samuel Zenovitch’s fortunes also prospered. In 1905 he purchased San Francisco’s Reception Cafe, where he had first worked as a bartender. The Reception Cafe was a hangout for high-flyers in the boxing and racing world, including John L. Sullivan, Jim Corbett, and Jack Dempsey.
In 1922 Samuel Zenovitch acquired the Burlingame Oyster Co. It would still be several years before the oyster saloon would be known as “Sam’s”. Zenovitch initially changed the name to the Bay Point Oyster Co., but the Bay Point name lasted for only a few years. Around 1930, the restaurant was renamed yet again, this time after its owners: “Zembolich & Zenovich.” It was a fine name, but hardly poetic for a restaurant, or even an oyster saloon.
Not suprisingly, “Zembolich & Zenovich” didn’t stick. A year later in 1931, the San Francisco Directories first show Sam’s name being used: “Sam’s Seafood Grotto.” At that time the restaurant moved to the north side of the California Market, at 561 California Street.
Sam Zenovich passed away in 1936, and the restaurant was purchased in the same year by Frank Seput, who formalized the establishment’s current name, “Sam’s Grill and Seafood Restaurant.” Sam’s moved from California Street to its present Bush Street address in 1946. Frank Seput’s two sons, Walter and Frank came into the business after the World War.