Driving down Hesperian Boulevard, it’s difficult to miss the bright blue and yellow circles that mark .
But what's even more worthy of attention is the fact that Sam’s is the only strictly-drive-thru hamburger joint in San Lorenzo—and it’s been that way since opening in the mid 1960s.
“If it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it,” jokes current owner Sam Gazes.
In fact, not much has changed since his grandfather bought the place. Gazes has added new menu items such as coffee and breakfast foods, but as far as the original items go, like burgers, corn dogs, tacos and milkshakes, he makes them the same way they were always made.
“You can add stuff [to the menu], but you can’t change them.” Gazes said. “No matter what you change, people will complain.”
He said his only major changes have been the restaurant’s colors (from orange and brown), the hamburgers’ bun manufacturer (from Athens Bread to Earth Grains, for a more spongy consistency) and the prices (to fit with today's costs).
His most recent change caused quite the commotion among customers: switching the ketchup from a container to packets.
For many of Sam’s long-standing customers like Ron Bronstein, a former San Lorenzo resident who has been eating at Sam’s since its burgers cost 15 cents, it’s the original recipes that keep them coming back for more.
“Since I started getting them till now, the burgers haven’t changed much and that’s what I love about them,” Bronstein said.
From the firmness of the buns and the moisture of the meat to the way the lettuce is chopped so it holds the patty perfectly in place—Bronstein said it’s details like these that make Sam’s double cheeseburgers his favorite food.
“I’ve checked burger joints everywhere I go and the burgers at Sam’s just stand on their own,” Bronstein said.
Back in its early years, Sam’s was part of a local chain of nine establishments in Oakland, Berkeley, Fremont, and, of course, San Lorenzo. Now, only the San Lorenzo and San Leandro restaurants remain.
Gazes remembers working at several of them during the summers as he was growing up. He says that those summers definitely paid off in learning the ins and outs of the business.
“Once my dad became a police officer, I knew I’d be next to take over,” he said.
Despite working long hours and the , Gazes says it’s bond with customers that keeps him going.
“Seeing the regulars come through, you get to watch them over the years and build a strong relationship with them,” Gazes said.
As it was years ago, Sam’s continues to be a hot-spot for high-schoolers and families. Its large parking lot also attracts low-riders and car clubs.
A modest Gazes says he prefers to stay out of the spotlight when it comes to promoting his business. He said that someone he's never met has even built a website for Sam’s.
“I just try to advertise myself as the restaurant, not the owner,” he said.
This, along with “fresh food and the double drive-thru,” are what he considers his secrets to success.
Note: For safety purposes since he usually works late at night, Gazes preferred not to be photographed in any of the pictures found above.