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Meet the self-made man behind Sammy's Pizza

Sami Ladeki is living the American dream after leaving Lebanon with $200 in his pocket.

Sami Ladeki went from having $200 in his pocket to owning a successful restaurant and living the American dream. In this Zevely Zone, I went to La Jolla to meet the real Sami behind Sammy's Food + Wine. Woodfired pizza may be all the rage in 2022, but in 1989, it was just heating up. It took fire and guts, for Sami to leave his home in Lebanon, move to Germany and then to the United States where he opened Sammy's Food + Wine. 

Most San Diegans know all about Sammy's Pizza, but not the face behind it. "It's funny you say that because when I go the tables you'll be sitting there with your wife and they say, 'Oh this is Sami, they say really', I say yeah really," said Sami who isn't sure what people expect when they see him. "I don't know maybe I have horns or something. I say what do you expect?" laughed Sami.  

Credit: CBS 8

The self-made man, started out with two hundred dollars in his pocket when he left Beirut as a young man. "That's me, ha, ha, ha," laughed Sami as we looked at a picture of him after he was drafted into the military in 1969. After serving in the U.S. Army, Sami served hotel guests in New Orleans. The hotel  industry taught Sami the customer is always right, sort of. "Well, I mean that is what we say, they not are not always right, but we make them feel right," said Sami. In the late 1980's, Sami ate breakfast in La Jolla and thought to himself, "I could do this, but with pizza," said Sami.

Credit: Sammy's Food + Wine

But first, he needed an oven. I asked Sami if he had five thousand dollars to buy his first oven? "No, ha, ha," said Sami who borrowed the cash from the Small Business Association. It takes a special type of person to jump into the fire. "The beauty about it is you have to have passion for it, if you do it for money and there is no passion it's not going to work," said Sami.  

Credit: CBS 8

Sami can't help but chuckle, when he reflects upon the success of a restaurant chain that stretches from San Diego to LA, Sacramento, Palm Desert and Las Vegas. "It was easy to do it," said Sami. Easy because when you start with 200 dollars, everything else feels like extra toppings. And no, Sami Ladeki does not have horns. "Ha, ha, ha, or do I?" laughed Sami.

Credit: CBS 8

Sammy’s Food + Wine opened its 11th location at Chula Vista’s Seven Mile Casino with Sammy’s Restaurant & Bar.

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“The pandemic has been hard for so many restaurants, and small businesses alike, but if the pandemic has offered us anything, it has been a chance for owners to work on the business rather than in to the day-to-day of the business,” said Sami Ladeki, owner, and founder. “Even though many of these plans have been in process, the last year-plus has given us the opportunity to focus on growth, relationships and branding to offer the best to our communities.”  

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We looked at one more picture of Sami when he was a young man. "You looked like a model. Talk, dark and handsome," I said. "The girls liked me then, the blondes," said Sami. "I had real hair then." Sami may have less hair now, but what has grown in its place is an American dream that still burns as hot as an oven.

To visit or for more information on Sammy’s Food + Wine, visit www.sammyspizza.com.