Cafeterias used to be everywhere in this country. (For those who aren’t familiar with the term, they are restaurants that serve you food from a buffet in a line formation, but unlike a buffet, such as those popular in Las Vegas and around the country, you don’t primarily serve yourself). Nowadays they are few and far between. In California in the late 1940s and the 1950s they evolved into a popular style called a hofbrau (from the German word for a royal brewery) probably because they usually served beer as well as hearty food.
The earliest hofbrau that is still open is Tommy’s Joynt in San Francisco. Still wonderfully original and filled with clutter it serves good, filling food at low prices (perhaps the best value in the city). In 1954 the first Harry’s Hof Brau opened in Redwood City, now a small chain of newer hofbraus owned by Harry’s son Larry Kramer (the original Redwood City location is still open but has been remodelled). Famous ball player, coach, and manager Francis ‘Lefty’ O’Doul opened his eponymous hofbrau / sports bar in 1958 in San Francisco (still open and it sill has some charm but every time I go there for some tasty chow it seems there are more TVs than before). And across the bay in Berkeley Brennan’s opened its Irish style hofbrau in 1959 (still owned by the same family, it moved in 2008 into the historic 1913 Southern Pacific Railroad Station next door to the original location, but it’s also filled with more TVs than I can stand).
In 1955 Sam Gordon opened his first Hof Brau in Sacramento at 17th and J streets (it closed in 1993 and became Hamburger Mary’s, then Hamburger Patties, and still has the original chef neon sign from Sam’s Hof Brau). In 1957 Sam Gordon opened another Hof Brau in downtown Sacramento at 815 L St. in a Bavarian theme. Then in 1960 he opened his fancier restaurant, Sam’s Rancho Villa, at 2380 Fair Oaks Blvd., which featured three dining rooms, the Candlelight, the Continental, and the Venetian, and two cocktail lounges, the Capri and the Eden Roc (wow, I would have loved to have seen this place!). Although it was swanky, they still served food cafeteria style. In 1962 he opened Sam’s Plaza Hof Brau in the Plaza Shopping Center at 2500 Watt Ave., the only Sam’s Hof Brau still open in Northern California. The restaurant is mostly original, except for a few TVs by the bar. At the front is the food line with the servers and a big pickle slice decanter. On the right side of the large main dining room is the long bar with a large oil painting of the Golden Spike ceremony when the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869.