Famed restaurateur, art collector, and cherished father and grandfather, Robert Samuel DuVall, known as Sam, passed away on November 1, 2020. Sam, 80, peacefully passed away due to old age while surrounded by family and loved ones in his San Francisco home. He is survived by his daughter, Samantha DuVall Bechtel, her husband, and their two children.
Sam was born on July 11, 1940 to Sadie Mae Dunn DuVall and James Samual DuVall who resided in Jackson, Mississippi.
Sam started his famed career as a restaurateur in 1967, opening 30 restaurants over 50 years, most notably Izzy’s Steakhouse, Elite Cafe, The Great American Music Hall, and Cafe Royale. Sam, a bon vivant, was one of San Francisco’s most adored restaurateurs with a larger than life personality. Sam received accolades and esteemed recognition including receiving Legacy Status for Izzy’s Steakhouse on its 30th anniversary in 2017.
In the 1950s as an undergraduate at University of Mississippi, in Oxford, Mississippi “Ole Miss”, he met his future business partner Tom Bradshaw with whom he shared an enthusiasm for jazz. Sam would share stories of hosting dinner parties in his former off-campus apartment starting with lasagna and gradually expanding his repertoire, once bringing artichokes from Memphis. He took two trips to Spain before graduating from Ole Miss in 1962. After college, Sam couldn’t wait to get out of Mississippi, and noted that Mississippi wasn’t ready for him. He moved to San Francisco in 1964 and after working in public relations he felt the calling to follow his passion for food.
As the story goes, having saved $10,000 with the notion of opening a jazz club in Madrid, one day he passed an empty grocery store for lease at the corner of California and Larkin Street in San Francisco. Three months later, with $2,000 and no experience, he opened Front Room Pizza. When reflecting on the start of his career in conversation for a book detailing his life, Sam noted:
I didn’t much like what I was doing and I’ve always liked to eat. I figured how difficult can it be to open a restaurant…. Before I opened, my research was that for 30 days I ate pizza all over the city. I hired away the best pizza cook for my place.
That was in 1967, and the rest was history.
Under Sam’s leadership, Izzy’s San Francisco on Steiner Street became an institution in the Marina District, serving as a communal gathering place for blue-collar workers who sought a substantial meal, good conversation, and a stiff pour after a long day’s work. As the neighborhood evolved, Izzy’s remained true to its defining pillars and nostalgia, remaining a favorite among locals and visitors alike.
Newly at the helm of The DuVall Family Restaurant Group is Sam’s daughter, Samantha DuVall Bechtel, a native San Franciscan. Samantha has been recently working to uphold Izzy’s core pillars and values, while innovating the business to ensure Izzy’s two locations in San Francisco and San Carlos have long-term futures as family-run Bay Area establishments. Joe Kohn, remains COO and CFO of the restaurant group. Sam met Joe, a classically trained chef, during one of his many rounds of tasting food across San Francisco. Twenty years ago he walked into Scala’s Bistro, loved the food, and hired Joe on the spot. They remained business partners and good friends ever since.
Sam also had a love for traveling to Cuba and showcasing artwork from Cuban artists in his San Francisco home and art galleries, raising funds for the budding artists. He collected over 2,000 pieces of Cuban art from the likes of Hector Frank, Alfredo Sosabravo, Ruben Alpizar, Eduardo Guerra and Ignacio Merida.
Sam was a loyal and much beloved friend to many.
A private memorial service will be held on December 6, 2020. A celebration of life will be held in late 2021. The family has created a website RobertSamuelDuVall.com for updates on the celebration of life. On the site, there is a space for everyone to share stories, and the family would love to hear yours.