Sam's Coffee Shop
Bruce and I stumbled onto Sam's Coffee Shop while in Half Moon Bay. We go to Half Moon Bay occasionally to thrift shop, visit the library, and be at one with the salty sea air, the coastal agricultural/fishing culture, the smell of freshly smoked salmon, and the quirky little places we always seem to find.
We actually had stopped first at the Flying Fish Grill (awesome fish tacos) but, as usual, it was packed. Instead, we decided to forego Flying Fish for something different since it's not every day we're in Half Moon Bay – roughly a 30-minute drive south from San Francisco.
That's when we saw what we thought were thrift stores across the street, anchored to both sides of a mini-shopping center. Upon closer inspection, they were actually cheaply-made goods at not-so-cheap prices stores that had a cantankerous off-gassing odor that could drop a chemically-sensitive person dead in their tracks.
In between lies Sam's.
Such is where, I guess, one would find a place like Sam's. Unlike the rest of Half Moon Bay's commercial district, Sam's is located in an area where people don't dress up in their finest blazers/blue jeans – H&M slacks with matching top, pumps and clutch – and drive around in their luxury/sports cars for everyone else to see while they patronize shitty New Age art galleries, wine shops, pretentious Cal-Med cuisine, and other trappings of bourgie-tourism ala Los Olivos or Point Reyes or Murphys or practically any other of the multitudes of California "cutesy" towns that thrive on such.
No, Sam's clientele are more of the kind that dress in their finest Tar-zhay, drive beat-up trucks, patronize the Thomas Kincaid gallery of jig-saw puzzles in Wal-Mart, BevMo, and hope to God no one, especially their husbands, wives or bosses, sees them driving around when they're suppose to be somewhere they're not.
In other words, my peoples.
I knew Sam's would satisfy my hunger as soon as I walked in and saw what looked like a restaurant full of locals and regulars busy chowing down. Say what you will about diner food, but generally there aren't too many surprises when it comes to the cuisine. If people look happy, the place smells/looks clean, and if the prices are right, then you've got nothing to lose – well, you know, there are exceptions.
And although there's a certain amount of predictability when it comes to diner/coffee shop food, there are quirks. Such as, no one told me Sam's was the place to come for a double decker ham and cheese club...fried. Oh, it's just so good it hurts! I'm coming Elizabeth, here I come!
The prices are reasonable and the service is friendly at Sam's. Unlike many Asian-owned/operated coffee shops, Sam's also employs non-family members (note: that's suppose to be funny...but true) as waitresses and cooks. While we were there, I noticed that the "Mom" managed the restaurant and ran the cash register while the rest of family sat at a large table in the corner next to us. Dad was busy reading a Chinese-language newspaper, while sister read an English one, and brother was consumed playing games on his cell phone. All of them looked rather bored and isolated, and yet resigned to being part of the 3 percent of Asian-Americans that comprise the 12,000 total population of Half Moon Bay.
Something tells me that neither brother nor sis will stick around long enough to run the shop after Mom retires. They likely have higher goals than running some greasy spoon in a windswept coastal town; goals that will put them closer to the city. And besides, this is the job Mom worked so they wouldn't have to.
Perhaps this was also the fate of the last owner's family and the fate of coffee shops everywhere, passed down from newcomer to newcomer. For all appearances, the Mom & Pop coffee shop is the quintessential cookie cutter, instant American business, serving American food to Americans, run by a struggling, newly American family. A safe harbor to land for the entrepreneurial newcomer.
Beyond that, it represents what has been played out on these new shores time and time again – hope in a better future.
A better future that, for now, comes with a cup of coffee and a side order.