In a Changing City, Izzy’s Steakhouse Remains a Constant
Izzy’s Steakhouse has been serving up San Franciscans big thick cuts of blackened steaks and hearty sides of creamed spinach and potatoes for decades. Though the restaurant feels like it’s been around for over a century, it actually opened in 1987 by the late, great restaurateur Sam DuVall.
DuVall, who was inspired by chef/restauranteur Izzy Gomez and his prohibition-era Barbary Coast saloon in North Beach, built the steakhouse to match the old times, with wood-paneled private booths in the back and old black-and-white photography that hangs on the walls. These days, the restaurant is run by DuVall’s daughter, Samantha DuVall-Bechtel. We sat down with her to learn more.
Resy: What was it like growing up in a restaurant family?
My father opened 40-some restaurants over the course of my childhood and life. I was there for all of them, and so number one: it was a lot of fun. Growing up in San Francisco, I couldn’t help but being a huge food and wine lover. This further solidified that passion and love just by the fact that my dad was constantly opening new restaurants all over town. Not only that, two, three times a week during my whole childhood and adult life, we’d go out to eat together. We’d always go out to any new restaurant opening in the city — high or low, we did it all. He was a huge inspiration business-wise, and he really knew how to enjoy life. He was a wonderful inspiration for me as a person and business mentor.
You spent a majority in your career in real estate. How has the transition been into the restaurant world?
On the other side of my life — my mother, Carolyn Chandler — started a commercial real estate firm in the 70s. I ran that with her for a decade before this arrived — before my father passed. My parents operated on different halves of the brain, which is what brought them together. My mom was the numbers, business mind, and my father was the creative. Having that combination growing up, and then in business, primed me pretty well for both of these professions. And I’m a complete combination of the two of them, so it’s been a lot of fun being able to exercise all sides of my brain.
There’s something simple about a steakhouse — you know what you’re getting.— Samantha DuVall
Going out to a steakhouse for dinner seems like a celebratory occasion. Why do you think that is?
I think that going out to a steak dinner in American culture has historically always been thought of as an appealing tradition that’s been perhaps been passed down through generations. A lot of people will pull me aside and say, “I just celebrated my birthday at Izzy’s and I had the most memorable experience.”
As humans, we love a tradition. The tradition that perhaps our parents brought us to these styles of restaurants when we were kids, and now these traditions we pass down to our kids. It’s sort of a taste memory that I think is very American at its core. It’s also simple. It’s a no-frills way to celebrate whereas in the fine dining world, there’s multi-course, multi-component dishes.
There’s something simple about a steakhouse — you know what you’re getting, it’s very approachable, and I think that resonates with a lot of people when you’re looking to celebrate with friends and family.
When you think of steakhouse culture, cities like New York and Chicago come to mind. Maybe not S.F. Do you agree with that?
I definitely agree with that. The further east you go, the more steeped in tradition the country could feel (in a good way). The East Coast has many years on us West Coasters, so I think these traditions feel long lasting and have been passed down through many generations. In California — especially in S.F. — we have a culture of trying new things, always trying to be on the cutting edge of what’s new. It does make sense that a traditional concept that’s classic, there’d be a lot more of, the further east you go.
However, we have so many wonderful locals and clientele that have started to make their own traditions coming to Izzy’s, and tell me wonderful stories to that end. So maybe the more years California is around, the more traditions we’ll form as well.
Why do you think Izzy’s remains a classic? What makes it special or standout compared to say other steakhouses in the city?
The original Izzy’s on Pacific Avenue was famous because Izzy Gomez would invite anyone, no matter who you were, from all walks of life, to come into the bar and eat and be part of the family. I think San Franciscans want to come into a restaurant and feel like it’s their Cheers. They enjoy being recognized, they enjoy seeing the maître d’ that’s been there for 20 years reach out for a handshake, or a fistbump, as they’re doing these days. I think the fact that we’ve had a lot of longtime team members that know our regulars and customers really keeps people coming back. And friendly service and the fact that we’re approachable to everyone.
Where’s your favorite table in the restaurant and why?
I like booth E — it’s the last booth in the back. Sometimes, if I just want to have a cozy dinner with my husband and we want to have a little date night, it’s really private and we can go back there and just have a nice romantic evening together. And no one knows we’re there [laughs].
But juxtaposted to my father’s favorite place to sit was the first bar stool you see when you walk in there. And then he could say hello to every single person that walked in.
What’s a perfect order for you? And what’re you drinking?
For me, the perfect order is a blackened New York with Izzy’s own potatoes and creamed spinach. Our Cajun Creole seasoning was a signature of my father’s since we opened. It makes for a really delicious and unique steak preparation. And the New York is a really nice cut. I have a lot of friends in the industry who prefer to go to a steakhouse for the sides — I think the spinach and potatoes are craveable and guests love them. As far as a cocktail goes, I’m drinking a mezcal Negroni if it’s a cold night, it’s nice and cozy. Or if it’s a warm night, a cold gin martini with three olives.
Do you remember what your Dad’s order was?
My father loved to order the steak au poivre. The first time he had it in Paris was the cat’s meow. He was a traditionalist. That’s what he would always order. To drink, my dad was definitely a Hemingway Daiquiri.
What’re the best selling items? And then what’re some sleeper hits on the menu in your opinion?
A fan favorite is 100% the skirt steak. But you could argue it’s a sleeper hit because it doesn’t pop out on the menu. We’d have riots outside the building if we ever removed it. Those who know really love it.
Another one is our fried oysters. They have this delicious “Envy Sauce.” My father was from the south, so this was a true Cajun Creole green sauce recipe he learned growing up. It’s been on the menu since we opened. It takes me back to New Orleans when I eat it.
Do you have any major plans at hand or changes coming up?
The relaunch of Izzy’s San Carlos is exciting. It’s going to be big with quite a few special spaces that didn’t exist before. I think maximizing what that restaurant can do is high on my excitement list at the moment. And focusing on our flagship and really setting these restaurants and brands up for the next 40 years.
When will San Carlos reopen? How will it be different?
I would love to give an exact date, but that wouldn’t be wise. Soon. One of the things that I always feel was a big need to have in San Carlos and in the Peninsula was a place for corporate events and business dinners. We’re going to have three really special private dining spaces that could accommodate anywhere from 14 to 70 people. Finding a place for a private event can be tricky, and we’re hoping we can build something that can appeal to those who want a special larger celebration with us. The fact that in a post pandemic world where a lot of folks are working from home, companies are looking for different ways they can gather their teams in person. I think that going forward, events of that nature will be important to company culture — it’ll be some of the only times they ever see co-workers.
We’re building quite a large outdoor patio space — having outdoor space is another thing the pandemic has reminded us how beautiful the weather is in California and that we should take advantage of it. Having an outdoor area was something we always wanted to do, and we thought this would be a nice opportunity to add the space. Also our bar — we’re doing quite a bit of work to make it feel a little bit more like the original Izzy’s saloon. So, there’s some nuances and historical details that will make it cozier and inviting and a nod to the original location.
Omar Mamoon is a San Francisco-based writer & cookie dough professional. Find him at @ommmar.