No stranger to the local food scene, longtime restaurateur and part-time La Jolla resident Sami Ladeki recently opened up his 15th dining location, a brunch and dinner concept just steps from the pedestrian walkway to the beach in Oceanside.
Ladeki, the force behind Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza, has launched Toasted Gastrobrunch & Sammy’s Diner in the spot formerly occupied by Carte Blanche Bistro & Bar. Ladeki’s latest expansion blends the offerings at two of his popular haunts – Toast Gastrobrunch (formerly located in Carlsbad) and Sammy’s – at the new 4,300-square-foot indoor/outdoor locale off Pier View Way at 339 N. Cleveland St.
The 79-year-old native of Beirut, Lebanon, and a U.S. resident since the 1960s, Ladeki has been incredibly impressed with city officials in Oceanside, who he said have welcomed him and the new restaurant with open arms.
“When we were presented this opportunity, we couldn’t pass it up,” he said. “The beauty of the design, coupled with the location and the amazing redevelopment of the downtown in Oceanside, made me fall in love with the site.”
Ladeki is eager to share with the dining public new specialties at the combination Toasted/Sammy’s venue, which offers what Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza CFO Amy Bulgatz calls “an elevated dining experience,” and as always using locally sourced and organic products whenever possible.
Ladeki hasn’t stopped reinventing, re-creating and improving his fare since launching the first Sammy’s in La Jolla in 1989. “You have to keep having a goal when you get up in the morning,” he said.
His latest venture in Oceanside is not the first time he’s tried something new – Ladeki since the late 1990s has overseen two sites in the Las Vegas area (where he and his wife also live part-time) that have adjacent 24-hour taverns with gaming inside, and last year opened Sammy’s Restaurant & Bar in Chula Vista’s Seven Mile Casino, a 24-hour concept with card table gaming.
Over his favorite dish – veggie hash with a poached egg on top – and his favorite beverage – organic passionfruit iced tea with a slice of citrus – Ladeki explained how he stays driven.
“I’m a creative guy and I’m a passionate guy,” he said. “It’s what I do. It’s an amazing thing, to create and do things that bring you pleasure. I have been successful because I also work with these people who have the passion, too, who love what they do.”
Ladeki is not a classically trained cook or a chef but has a strong background in the restaurant, hotel and hospitality industry. He first learned about hospitality management in Germany and got his first hospitality-related job in London before moving to New Orleans to work at the Royal Sonesta Hotel.
From there, he was recruited in the late 1970s to be food and beverage manager at Caesars Palace. Later, he owned and managed a restaurant and night club in Texas, but Ladeki eventually tired of working for others, and made his way to San Diego in the 1980s, where he said he fell in love with La Jolla.
Figuring out the logistics of financing on his own with an SBA loan, the first Sammy’s opened in 1989 on Pearl Street at Draper Avenue. One of the first workers he hired, an original employee, is still at that La Jolla location.
Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza
FOUNDER/CEO: Sami Ladeki
HEADQUARTERS: La Jolla
BUSINESS: Restaurant; 15 locations
WEBSITE: sammyspizza.com and toastedoceanside.com
SOCIAL IMPACT: All Sammy’s locations, from San Diego to Sacramento to Nevada, offer military families a 20% discount every day.
NOTABLE: Born in Beirut and educated in Germany, Ladeki got his first job at a hotel in London.