Sam ‘The Cooking Guy’ Zien adapts to a crazy culinary year
But with business partner Grain & Grit Collective, the gregarious TV cooking-show host has learned how to adapt and survive in the rocky pandemic-era restaurant world.
“The word pivot can’t be overused,” Zien said last week. “They say 2020 is the year of the pivot, and if you don’t pivot at all, your life will be a lot more difficult.”
Graze By Sam has reopened successfully as an all-outdoor restaurant/bar and Zien’s Not Not Tacos stand in Grain & Grit’s Little Italy Food Hall is also now doing “solid” business since the hall reopened for takeout service, he said.
On Oct. 22, the partners opened their latest collaboration, Eats by Sam, which was tailor-made to ride out the pandemic for as long as necessary. Located in Seaport Village, Eats is essentially two takeout-only restaurant concepts — Samburgers and Samwiches — which sell their products only through third-party delivery apps and a walk-up computer kiosk at Seaport Village. Zien said a third takeout “Sam” brand will likely be added to the Eats mix around February.
The Eats businesses are being operated from the kitchen of the former Buster’s Beach House, an 8,000-square-foot shuttered restaurant at Seaport Village that Zien and Grain & Grit leased earlier this year. Their original plan was to renovate Buster’s and open a new full-service, sit-down restaurant. But that’s not feasible right now. So until the pandemic clouds lift, they’re using the Buster’s space as a ghost kitchen and a commercial commissary for Graze By Sam and Not Not Tacos, which are a mere 1-mile golf cart trip away.
Samburgers offers five burgers and one hot dog, with a choose-your-protein option and choice of add-on toppings and patties. Zien said the runaway best-seller so far is the Not So Basic Basic Burger.
Samwiches serves nine sandwiches, including a spicy Soyrizo torpedo, a bacon grilled cheese, a smoked club and a toasted shrimp salad sandwich. Zien’s favorite is the grilled pastrami Reuben, which is topped with cole slaw rather than the traditional sauerkraut. Sides for both Eats concepts include fries, tots, fried pickles, baked beans and three deli salads.
In the first week of business, Zien said 30 percent of sales were through third-party delivery apps like Grubhub and DoorDash and 70 percent of sales were to walk-up customers at Seaport Village, which has a lot of outdoor seating.
“Things are going swimmingly,” Zien said. “So far we’ve been embraced. People seem to be excited by what we’re offering.”
Another thing going well for Zien is the success of his YouTube cooking channel, which has grown from 1.5 million to 2.3 million subscribers since the pandemic began, as more Americans prepare most of their meals at home. That celebrity has helped bring new visitors into his restaurants, which he visits frequently to interact with customers and oversee operations. Zien and his wife, Kelly, live in Little Italy.
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