+ By David O’Higgins + Photos by John Bildahl
Once upon a time in Annapolis, Sam’s on the Waterfront became immersed in a nightmarish fake-pineapple, coconut-bra brand image that was an ocean away from the culinary mores of local sea-foodies. Consequently, Sam’s has spent the past 30 years struggling with changing identities and with its cuisine in the doldrums, leaving patrons with one big yawn of a dining experience.
Today, a renaissance is happening at Sam’s as its owner, Andrew (Andy) Parks, ushers in a fresh direction for the eatery. The undertaking is formidable, as it not only encompasses the re-engineering of the interiors but also the revitalization of the quality of its food, its customer service, and the brand. Achieving all these things commands the right blend of guidance and teamwork.
Eureka! Park has found a restaurant professional who can assist him with the challenges Sam’s faces. That person is Matty Rose, who has recently taken up the mantle of head chef.
Rose, a Marylander, is formally trained in classic French culinary techniques. His big break came when he was asked to join David Chang’s two-Michelin-star restaurant Momofuku CCDC in Washington, DC. It was there, he says, that he honed his skills “fine-tuning flavors, food presentation, and testing my plates under the guidance of a master chef.”
His food loves are Italian cuisine and seafood with pasta or noodles prepared in the South East Asian style. Working at Momofuku CCDC gave him the opportunity to develop and express his particular culinary passion for the magic of durum wheat.
Rose made the decision to join Sam’s because he felt that there was an opportunity to turn the restaurant into something truly great. He is eager to address this challenge.
He has an interesting philosophy about customer service: “I think the customer is always right, even when they might be wrong. That is a chance for us to make it right, but in a different way. We listen to customer feedback and use it to improve our culinary offerings and service. I want my customers to be happy and come back.”
“It’s not just about me being in charge,” says Rose about his role as head chef. “It’s about delegating in such a way as to engender a strong sense of camaraderie and teamwork. I want everyone in my team to take responsibility and aspire to create an area of ownership that is theirs and make the best of it.” He is graced with kitchen support by way of youngbloods Paul Spangle (lead line cook) and Andrew Carr (line cook), who both sparkle with ambition and promise.
Rose is also an accomplished musician. This experience translates to the kitchen, where he and his team cultivate the crescendo of each dish, leaving a symphony of flavors to garnish the plate.
Two house managers oversee Sam’s frontline. Peter Aluzzo, a solid, innovative Sam’s veteran, ensures things run smoothly while newcomer Jeff Schramek uses his experience to enliven customer interactions. Their combined expertise brings a zesty style to the front of the house.
Sam’s aims to be the go-to dining destination for seafood—an exciting, unique hangout for the locals. Its clientele is diverse. Seniors tend to come in for lunch, whereas in the evenings, hipsters rub shoulders with millionaires and political luminaries mingle with power-boaters. Yes, Sam’s is a veritable melting pot of characters and conversations.
Any brand expert will tell you that to develop a successful business you must focus on doing one thing well. This philosophy doesn’t prohibit variations on a theme, but the theme must be simple enough to enable variety.
Sam’s leadership knows this principle well. That’s why, from a brand evolution perspective, they’re going back to basics, starting with good old-fashioned culinary techniques. Sam’s fundamental theme is seafood par excellence, primed and expressed in a myriad of groundbreaking ways but based on traditional cooking methods.
The ultimate difference from its competitors, though, is that if the staff aren’t slammed with demand, they will happily endeavor to create whatever dish a customer desires. Nowadays, such devotion to customer service is almost extinct—yet another good reason to come and enjoy the new water-frontier of great Annapolis seafood that is Sam’s on the Waterfront.
While Sam’s used to serenade patrons with a kitschy dining experience, its virtuosos are orchestrating sweet harmony between the kitchen and the dining room. █