Friday, September 9, 2011

Howard Lee/ Samoa House Restaurant

Howard Lee at the Van Nuys Ranch

Howard Lee and the Jue girls -Joan, Soo-Jan , and Pingeleen at the Van Nuys Ranch

Auntie Joan:

Howard Lee was a friend of my father, well educated in China as a monk
and an intellectual. He spoke English fluently and well versed in business etc. He often traveled w/Dad on business. Later he partnered w/a white friend to open
a highly successful little restaurant called Samoa House.( chinese smoked ribs served hawaiian style) It did so well, they then opened a huge new place to
accomodate the crowd.

Auntie Soo-Yin
We all called Howard Lee, "Bo Kway Bak," which was his name in Cantonese. "Bo Kway," his name, and "Bak," which is a respectful title for an elderly person (like "Ah Bak" for Leong Shee because she was your great grandmother).
By the time I was born, Bo Kway Bak was an older man with all white hair. At Chinese New Year he would come to the Ranch and pass out "Lei Shee" red envelopes to my siblings and I. He was an old family friend and the friendship goes back a long long way.

Dad ( Jack Jue Sr.)
Howard Lee was my father's good friend in the past and I think he helped out on the farming during the war years and then yes,he was more of a business man and my father helped him start Samoa house , a Hawaiian BBQ rib place in Encino . It was a very trendy place. I worked there waiting on tables with a Hawaiian shirt to all the hoity toity who would come .
It was very successful. For many years, I can remember the ceiling fans running the whole length of the dinning area with fake palm trees and music playing softly in the background. In fact , Howard Lee wanted me to marry his daughter in China so she could come to America. Her picture showed she was good looking but I told my father I liked your mom , Alice, better. Later I think he and my father again were partners in starting a Chinese restaurant called Tang Hall in Reseda.
I always remember Samoa House because I went with Howard and my father to analyze other Hawaiian eateries such as Kelbos in Culver City. Samoa house was Chinese BBQ ribs and they were excellent!

Art Rony , a columnist in the LA times wrote before the Samoa house resturant opened :
"I don't know how mixed up things can get . But this'll do. Partners in the new Samoa House on Ventura Blvd. are a guy named Tex Loving who's spent most of his life in Hong Kong and Howard Lee , a Chinese Boy from Alpine , Texas ..."

Here is the original April 20, 1958 announcement of the new Samoa House restaurant opening .
(Click to enlarge)

Samoa House was a Valley institution and became a successful jazz club in the 1960's and 1970's ...

"The Valley was jumpin' with jazz spots as the 1970s dawned, ...

Everywhere you looked, from the East Valley to the West Valley, the landscape was dotted with jazz joints dating back to the '40s, '50s and '60s that were packing them in seven nights a week for some great music. There was the Shalimar Club,Ram's Horn, Dante's, Chadneys, Whittinghills, Alphonse's, Samoa House, Ruddy Duck, China Trader, Money Tree, Tail o' the Cock, Smoke House and many more.

Today, the old clubs are gone except for the Baked Potato and Monteleone's West in Tarzana.

Why so many popular jazz spots faded away has as many opinions as musicians have riffs. But there is one thing the club owners, musicians and band leaders agree on.

They'd all love to turn that clock back to the days when the Valley was a hotbed of great jazz, and just about every neighborhood had a club in it.

The place was swingin', they said.

``When I opened in '71 at Balboa Avenue and Ventura Blvd there was the Smoke House across the street with jazz, the Ram's Horn just east of me, Travaglini's Restaurant with its lounge down the block, and the Samoa House playing jazz about three blocks away,'' said Monteleone.... "


  1. Howard Lee is my grandfather! I stumbled upon your blog while I was Googling his old restaurant Tang Hall. After skimming through your blog, I found it to be a wonderful picture of our heritage in California and beyond. More importantly, we probably met way back when I was a little kid hanging out at the Samoa House. Look for my email!

    1. How exciting to find this blog! Samoa House was a favorite of my family when I was growing up in the Valley. Loved the salad...still trying to mimic the dressing (I live in Georgia now and there is nothing like it). Would love to see more pictures, wish it were still there so I could at least eat there with Mother when I visit, she would love to go back. Thanks for the happy memories, Suzi V. Sandy Springs, GA

    2. Vennie, I knew your grandfather! And I might have met your dad, even YOU! Howard’s son came to our house after he arrived here from China, I am Going to say approximately 1950.
      You see, my father was the “White man” that Howard went into business with. They opened the original Samoa House together on Van Nuys Blvd. ( with financial help from Joe Jue) Your grandfather was a good man! He was also
      Very seeet to me. ( maybe because he had a daughter a long way from him, still in China.
      I would love to hear back from you & share some memories. Best, Lynda

  2. I so remember The Samoa House. It was a favorite of my family, and my very favorite restaurant when growing up. I loved their ribs and the tiny rolls they served and absolutely the best 1000 island dressing I've ever tasted, nice and thick. It was the place to go for all special occasions. I remember all the specialty Polynesian drinks like the Navy Grog, Mai Tia and one gigantic one that came in a huge bowl with every kind of rum and six straws and you could only order one. I really this place. The staff were so nice. And I believe to this day that it is why I have such a love for the islands and their culture. I always want to have my first legal alcoholic drink at The Samoa House. But it was gone by then. Such great memories. Wish there were photos to go along with this blog. Thanks again.
    Carl Greco, Huntington Beach, Ca via North Hollywood.

  3. I found this web site with some nice pictures of Samoa House mugs and match stick covers....

  4. I grew up eating lunches at the Samoa House in the 50's. I always ordered the bar b que ham sandwiches pilled high on a bun with the yummy red sauce. I've never tasted anything like that again. I grew up in Oxnard , about 45 miles north of L. A. Such a wonderful memory with the big fan in the ceiling!!

  5. Just stumbled onto this and what a memory trip! Used to eat there in the 50s as a child. We lived 2 blocks from the Van Nuys spot. Contrary to what was mentioned, as I remember it, they moved to Ventura Blvd. when the Ventura Freeway ran over the top of them at Van Nuys Blvd.
    They did have the best 1000 Island and Blue Cheese dressings I've ever had and the ribs have never been duplicated. Would love to find the recipes. Probably long lost. Haven't thought of the small rolls or the ham sandwiches in 4 decades. They were good to.

  6. My father was Mr. Lee's doctor and our family loved the Samoa House. Tex and Mr. Lee were a great team. I loved the two ribs and ham sandwich lunch.

  7. As a boy maybe Mom would drop me off at Encino Bowl...A friend and I would roll 2 frames...and then hit Samoa House for lunch where Tex would place my bill on credit! My family dined there often and I will never forget the giant room fans as they slowly swayed as we dined. Tex and Kaye were always the most gracious host.

  8. So many of us with the same memories of growing up & eating @ the Samoa House with our families. It was hands down, the best Cantonese Chinese Food (I was 7 or 8 when they closed so if I'm wrong on the type I apologize) we have ever eaten. Paper wrapped chicken was my fav.
    I would pay greatly if someone would come out with a recipe book of their exact items. OMGosh that would be the best!!