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Sam's Chowder House Palo Alto to become burger chain

Uploaded: Dec 2, 2016
Downtown Palo Alto seafood restaurant Sam's Chowder House has been sold to a Boston-based burger chain, the Sam's owners announced in an email Friday afternoon.

The University Avenue restaurant, which opened in November 2013, will close Sunday, Dec. 11. The original Half Moon Bay Sam's will remain, as well as the restaurant's "Chowdermobile" food trucks, co-owner Julie Shenkman wrote in the email.

"After receiving an 'offer we can't refuse' to turn this location into a Wahlburgers gourmet hamburger restaurant, Sam's has now been SOLD," Shenkman wrote.

Sam's Chowder House opened at 185 University Ave. in 2013. Photo by Michelle Le/Palo Alto Weekly.

Wahlburgers, which now has locations in Massachusetts, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Canada, was started in 2011 by the Wahlberg family, including celebrity actor-producer Mark Wahlberg and his brothers Paul and Donnie (also an actor). In the midst of a massive expansion effort, they plan to open 30 more locations this year, including the one in Palo Alto. according to Shenkman.

"We are on the road to bringing Wahlburgers to a city near you," Mark Wahlberg said in a March press release announcing five new franchise groups and other openings. "We've created this family business with a mission to welcome families and friends from around the world to a place where they can break bread, enjoy some great food and lots of laughs."

Wahlburgers' website describes the company as a "working class organization, rooted at our family's kitchen table where the only star is the food and the music is laughter and stories."

The menu includes burgers, sandwiches, salads, sides and specials (complete with stamps indicating the Wahlberg family members' favorites, like "Donnie's fave" and "mom's fave").

The family and its restaurant chain are also the subject of a new reality show on the A&E network.

For Sam's, the sale came at a time when the restaurant is shifting its focus to "smaller, fast casual 'cafes' which are easier to staff and operate," Shenkman wrote.

Sam's will be announcing new "smaller cafe locations" in the coming year, she said. In a separate email to the Weekly, she declined to provide further details on what these will look like.

A lobster roll at Sam's Chowder House in Palo Alto. Photo by Michelle Le/Palo Alto Weekly.

Many Palo Alto staff members will be staying on with the new burger restaurant or moving to the Half Moon Bay Sam's, Shenkman said.

Sam's opened at 185 University Ave. three years ago, replacing the short-lived Campo 185. In 2014, diners voted Sam's "best new restaurant" in the Palo Alto Weekly's Best Of competition and again as "best seafood" in 2015.

Shenkman said that "it's been fun to be in Palo Alto these past three years, and we are grateful for the warm and wonderful reception that we've received from the community."

The Palo Alto restaurant will be open for regular business hours through Dec. 11, hold a few already scheduled private events "and then pass the baton to the new owner," Shenkman wrote.

Stay tuned on an opening date for Wahlburgers. (Shenkman said she couldn't speak for the restaurant chain but had heard the plan is for spring of 2017.)

Mindy Valone, senior media strategist, for Wahlburgers wrote in an email: " No opening timeline yet."

The new restaurant will join other burger spots downtown and close by in Palo Alto, including Umami Burger, SliderBar, Gott's Roadside, Kirk's Steakburgers and The Counter.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Poke Lover, a resident of Mountain View,
on Dec 2, 2016 at 4:19 pm

Wahlburger? Eh. Wake me up when a Pitt-burger or a Damon-dog comes to town...

Posted by DTN Paul, a resident of Downtown North,
on Dec 2, 2016 at 4:44 pm

DTN Paul is a registered user.

It makes me sad to know that there will be a Wahlburgers in Palo Alto.

Posted by Mama, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Dec 2, 2016 at 6:17 pm

Mama is a registered user.

I won't miss Sam's. Too expensive and lobster rolls nowhere near as good as Lobster Shack.

Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Dec 2, 2016 at 11:31 pm

In ten years, there will be a Bubba Gump's at this street address.

That or a Starbucks Reserve.

Posted by W-Park Dude, a resident of Waverly Park,
on Dec 3, 2016 at 7:32 am

We ate at Sam's Palo Alto last year. Despite the restaurant being half empty, they were clearly trying to turn over the table and continually tried to rush us out the door. I get that seafood places are pricey, but without the views of Sam's Half Moon Bay, it was only a matter of time.

Posted by food, a resident of Downtown North,
on Dec 3, 2016 at 8:13 am

great a chain

Posted by Eater, a resident of Mountain View,
on Dec 3, 2016 at 11:39 am

Let me get this straight. Not just Yet-Another out-of-town hamburger chain. But a hamburger chain from Mark Wahlberg, originally known for beating up Vietnamese immigrants who were total strangers (just because they were immigrants), consequently a convicted felon, more recently known for lack of interest in using any of his subsequent good fortune (as an actor) to try to help out those, or his various other, past assault victims? Web Link ("He said the right thing to do would be to try to find the blinded man and make amends, and admitted he has not done so, but added that he was no longer burdened by guilt. . .")

This will go over wonderfully, especially with the US's largest concentration of Vietnamese immigrants and their descendants, here in Santa Clara County.

Palo Alto deserves better.

Posted by Prime Rib, a resident of College Terrace,
on Dec 4, 2016 at 10:53 pm

Just what downtown Palo Alto needs, a "gourmet" hamburger chain restaurant. Ironic that this was the former Good Earth restaurant location. Sorry cows, you lose.

Posted by OK, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Dec 5, 2016 at 10:12 am

I bet I eat there sooner than I would have eaten at Sam's

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Dec 6, 2016 at 12:55 am

My favorite burger in that neighborhood is at the Creamery,
but probably just because their ambiance agrees with me.

Posted by Midtowners, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 6, 2016 at 1:03 pm

Midtowners is a registered user.

Vote with your feet and wallets. Seems like the last thing we need is another burger place.

Posted by PEG, a resident of North Whisman,
on Dec 6, 2016 at 2:47 pm

Wahlburgers is not a "gourmet burger" place! They use "welfare cheese" (their words)and I can't see why we need another burger place in Palo Alto...just count the ones on University Ave.

Posted by Good Riddance!, a resident of Downtown North,
on Dec 6, 2016 at 3:05 pm

The staff at Sam's was not at all kid friendly, and would seat large groups of adults before seating parents with one child whop had been waiting thirty or more minutes!

The food was pretty "meh" for the money--absolutely nothing like the original in Half Moon Bay.

We don't need yet another burger joint, but my family will not miss Sam's at all.

Posted by parent, a resident of Downtown North,
on Dec 6, 2016 at 5:07 pm

In case you haven't heard, before he became a rich and famous entertainer, Mark Wahlberg was convicted of a series of violent hate crimes and robberies against Asian-Americans and African-Americans in the Boston area. A couple of years ago, Wahlberg asked for a legal pardon for his felonies. Some of the victims and evan a former prosecutor said the pardon request was purely for business reasons and asked that it be denied. News report in the Boston Globe newspaper: Web Link

Posted by Get over yourselves entitled Palo altoans, a resident of Community Center,
on Dec 6, 2016 at 5:22 pm

My advice, parent, is just don't eat there if his actions upset you so. That is n the past. I guess in Palo Alto we do not believe in people turning over a new leaf or changing past bad behaviors.
In addition, mark does extensive charity work now:
Wahlberg established the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation in May 2001 for the purpose of raising and distributing funds to youth service and enrichment programs.[67] Wahlberg is active with The Good Shepherd Center for Homeless Women and Children.[68]"
But of course Palo Alto residents are so,pure and holier than thou ......

As for the comments regarding the type of restaurant, maybe we should bring it to a citywide vote-- no new restaurant can open without the city agreeing to it. Or maybe we should have the city council decide-- after all they love to micromanage our lives with their out of touch pronouncement about what we should or should not be doing.

Posted by Novelera, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 6, 2016 at 5:35 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

I had a lobster roll there about 6 months after they opened. It was delicious. I went there with a friend who was treating me to a birthday lunch there a few months ago. The lobster roll cost an arm and a leg and it wasn't very good.

Posted by Abitarian, a resident of Downtown North,
on Dec 7, 2016 at 7:34 am

I never understood why City Council acted to regulate chain stores and restaurants in the California Avenue business district but decided not to apply the same rules downtown.

Posted by Chris Dewees, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Dec 7, 2016 at 9:55 am

Restaurants turn over so fast I have lost track of what is still around. It seems like every time we stroll down Cal Ave or University, we are surprised by another turnover. Speaking just of Cal Ave: anyone remember the hot dog restaurant (can't recall the name) that was under development for what seemed like two years only to close after about a month in operation? We talked about eating there, but never had the chance. Then there was a sort-of-fast-food pizza place (can't recall the name) that opened next to Starbucks and closed a few months later. We did eat there -- no comment. Now it's an upscalish branch (can't recall the name) of Terun (quite good) up the street. At least Bistro Elan (best restaurant in PA in my very biased opinion) did not close, only relocated. Regarding Wahlburger, the last thing we need anywhere in PA is another burger joint -- poor Kirk's is getting killed by Gott's, a mere 100 feet away in the same center. Who negotiated that lease?

Posted by Kerry, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 7, 2016 at 11:38 am

It looks like University is becoming/or has become a place for basically restaurants, why not some other retail for the residents who actually live here and don't want to drive to Los Altos or Menlo Park. Also, Le Boulanger is doing so well in Los Altos and Menlo Park,a reasonably priced soup/sandwich venue, why wasn't it able to make a go if it on California Ave.?

Posted by Phil, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Dec 7, 2016 at 12:58 pm

What I don;t understand is the way restaurant prices are moving up and up. It seems like they publish a new menu ever month with a bump in prices. No rationale for this. I think a boycott is called for to let the restaurants know enough is enough. I know there are plenty of people in Palo Alto who never even look at the right side of the menu but it's becoming difficult for the working stiff to eat out for less than $50.
I think a working man's boycott on Thursdays would let the restaurants know that we "won't take it any more"

Posted by chris, a resident of University South,
on Dec 7, 2016 at 3:43 pm

Given rents in Palo Alto, a restaurant that hits the right market niche and has enough capital and a good financial plan, it can be very successful. If a restaurant is under-capitalized or misses on its food and market, it will go south fast.

I am surprised Sam's lasted as long as it did. It was obviously worth more dead than alive.

Posted by Get over yourselevs, a resident of Community Center,
on Dec 7, 2016 at 4:54 pm

Kerry-- what kind of retail? Palo,alto,has made sure that your everyday shopping needs will have to be done in other cities. They do not want chain stores ( Palo Alto is so special our CC says). They want mom and pop stores. What mom and pop store would be crazy enough to open in downtown Palo Alto? Sorry, Kerry but the days of doing your shopping in Palo,Alto is long gone.

Posted by john_alderman, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Dec 7, 2016 at 6:57 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Get over yourselevs - There is no prohibition against chains downtown. You are posting in a thread about a new chain restaurant opening downtown.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 8, 2016 at 9:11 am

I ate at Sam's a short time after it first opened. The place had a long wait and the food was good but expensive - definitely not the place for a quick bite.

It seems that the likelihood is that a burger bar will be more in line with the demographics likely to eat there which are younger downtown workers rather than those of us who live in Palo Alto and would like a nice meal out that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Personally speaking, if I eat out I want something a little more special than a burger which is nothing more than a meat sandwich.

Posted by wannabe designer, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 8, 2016 at 9:46 am

holy cow wahlburgers logo is fugly �" wasabi comes to mind more than a burger... i don't think they'll survive for very long at this location...

Posted by charles reilly , a resident of another community,
on Jan 9, 2017 at 5:44 am

TBT, traditional Retail is getting pounded by the Internet and it surprises me that local residents of Palo Alto don't see that. Things like bookstores, stationary stores, dry cleaners, stereo stores etc. are becoming relics of the 1970's. Every time you order stuff online, you hurt the Mom and Pops and create empty storefronts. Don't complain when that space gets a restaurant that doesn't meet your culinary requirements.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 9, 2017 at 2:13 pm

@Charles Reilly

And everytime a decent store closes it forces me to go farther afield or shop online. I prefer shopping in person, but it is getting hard to do so.

Sometimes it is a chicken and egg situation.

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