87 years and still going: Sloppy Sam’s deep-rooted history in Cape Town’s dining culture

Surely every Capetonian – and those beyond – has at the very least heard of Sloppy Sam, even if they have not eaten there. It’s a bit scandalous to admit that, like confessing you’ve not watched a single episode of Game of Thrones, but these people exist, apparently.

The original Sloppy Sam was a milk bar and grill in Three Anchor Bay circa mid-1930s. Current owner Persian-born Hooman Saffarian says he discovered archives with the application for signage dated 1937. It’s part of Cape Town’s history, its soul. Hooman bought the place in 1985, although he was actually in the market to open a pizzeria, having trained in the art. But the previous owners were Greek, with Greek dishes on the menu, so he went with the flow.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by SloppySam (@sloppysamcapetown)

“When you take over something that personal and established, you want to keep that level of what it was. It was difficult,” he admits. Maybe so, but with the famous name still in lights nearly 40 years later, there’s no denying it has been a success.

Now in new premises in Heritage Square in the Cape Town city centre, Sloppy Sam has not however enjoyed uninterrupted trading; Hooman sold it to a “lady with no restaurant experience” in 1993. Never you mind about that, she said, I’m paying you and that’s it. “She only lasted two months,” says Hooman, who bought back the name some time later.

Sloppy Sam reopened in Somerset Road in Green Point in 2005, and later moved upstairs above Origin Coffee Roasting in De Waterkant. Insert Covid here with its upheaval, and the lengthy renewed search for premises, which was plagued by broken promises. All’s well that ends well, and Sloppy Sam is cosily ensconced in Heritage Square, surrounded by stone walls draped with colourful rugs.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by SloppySam (@sloppysamcapetown)

The open-plan kitchen is where you’ll find Hooman every night during service, overseeing every dish that crosses the pass. “Nothing gets past my eyes,” he says. “I taste and check everything, and everything is made to order, which is sometimes why you have to wait a bit for your food. I’m very specific – not a control freak,” he adds. “We never pre-cut anything – cucumber, onion, tomatoes – the salad is fresh.”

The menu has evolved over time, now featuring mainly small plates. “We still do our lamb shanks and roasted lamb neck,” says Hooman, who dislikes the term ‘specials board’. It’s off-menu. “Specials board makes it sound like everything else is not special,” he says. So if you are one of the loyal customers who has followed Sloppy Sam from location to location, you’ll know what to ask for. The waiters will tell you though, if you don’t.

The lamb riblets are famous and popular. “Basically we have a good relationship with the lamb,” says Hooman. “We got away from the Greek… just because we’ve got tzatziki and tarama doesn’t make us Greek. We’re Mediterranean with a bit of Persian influence. Our moussaka is hailed as one of the best.” That’s also off-menu so keep it in mind.

“From time to time I’ll do some steaks – good quality extra virgin olive oil, coarse salt, black pepper, served with roasted vegetables and roast potatoes.”

With restaurants that come and go, Sloppy Sam’s longevity is impressive. “I’m just an individual, not one of these foodies. I enjoy food but it’s not my life,” says Hooman. For him, it’s about creating an atmosphere and cultivating a relationship with his customers – who span generations. “There are not that many owner-chef restaurants and that makes a big difference. Who’s the chef, it’s me; who’s the manager, it’s me; who does the donkey work, it’s ME!” he laughs.

Of course, it’s about the food too, but with Hooman there every night ensuring happiness, those customers become friends, friends who keep coming back.

Leave a comment

Promoted Restaurants