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Friday, December 12, 2008

REVIEW: Sam's For Play Café - Santa Rosa

Looking for a home away from home? Looking for a place, like Cheers, where everybody knows your name? Try SAM’S, founded by Sam Anker.

Sam grew up loving a business where she could interact with the customers. Her mom owned “Dot’s Donuts” in Montgomery Village and Sam spent 25 years working in local restaurants before she decided to open her own. All work and no play was definitely not in Sam’s plans. She wanted to have a restaurant where people could come for home made food and feel just like they were “at home”. Her criteria: quality, home style meals, immaculate & pleasant atmosphere, excellent service, attention to detail and a place that would be fun. She called her customers by their first name and truly appreciated their daily patronage.

On May 1, 1985, Sam opened her first restaurant on Sebastopol road and September 6, 2000 Sam’s For Play Café opened at 2630 Cleveland Avenue in Santa Rosa. I went to this site with a friend who had a business in that area. Of course everyone knew her name and I was blown away by the friendly feeling and the quality of the food. Our waitperson’s name tag was “Anita Raise”. I soon found out that all the staff could make up their own name tags. Examples are “Bev Ridges” and “Diana Hunger” or “Anita Coffee.”

I spoke to “Al Dente” who said he had worked there for about 5 years and he loved his job. One employee has been there for 17 plus years and 12 others have been there over 8 years. I was told everyone was treated the same, dishwasher to manager, and friendliness was key. So I decided to ask the Manager, Troy Anker, what some of his favorite stories were. He told about the customer who actually found a huge fresh CULTURED PEARL in an oyster in his Hang Town Fry. (Yes, the food is all fresh). The customer let the staff display the pearl for a week before he had it made into a necklace for his wife. Another story is the 98 year old customer whose birthday is December 31st. For many years now, every Dec 31st she is there for dinner and the crew pops a bottle of champagne to celebrate her birthday. It seems that the core customers number about 100 and are there almost every day. They are loyal, consistent and predictable such as Bernice Bourne who had her 90th birthday the week I did this interview.

All the items on the menu are cooked to order. You can get breakfast all day which is a plus from my point of view. For lunch you can select from Sam’s Favorites which range in price from $7.95 for quesadillas to $11.95 for N.Y. Steak sandwich; and a variety of burgers from $5.25 to $8.95. Sam’s has an old American tradition, the BLUE PLATE SPECIAL served Monday through Friday for $5.95. If salads are your passion you can pick from eleven different salads ranging in price from $2.50 to $10.95. Also there is daily home made soup or chili from $2.95 a cup or $4.95 for a large bowl.

Dinner offers appetizers, salads and twelve selections of meat, chicken or fish. If your family has one big eater and one not so big eater you can order A LA Carte or a full dinner. For example: A New York steak with mushrooms and fresh vegetables is yours for $11.95 A La Carte but if you want the full dinner with soup or salad, garlic bread and your choice of rice or four different styles of potatoes the cost is $13.95. On Friday and Saturday night you can order their Special Prime Rib Dinner for $14.95 or get it A La Carte for $12.95. Now for those of us who are of a certain age and really can’t eat a lot they have a ‘Senior Dinner Menu’ with many of the same items on the regular menu and the price ranges from $6.95 to $9.95 A La Carte. But I suggest you check the menu out for yourself at

The phone number is 528 2929 at the Cleveland Avenue restaurant. Sam’s For Play Café is open Monday thru Saturday from 6:00 a m. to 9:00 p.m. On Sunday the hours are 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. They also offer catering and box lunches for groups and have a banquet room for special events.

And yes, Sam is still around. She makes all the pies which you can buy and take home. She also loves to travel and spend time with her children and 6 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. Good for you Sam.