Sampan Café

The Scene:

Gary Zhu acquired Sampan Café’, a faltering gaudily decorated pink Szechuan style restaurant in 2002. Even with all of its hideous shortcomings he saw a jewel in the rough and went in with full knowledge “that success is the outcome of confidence and lots of hard work” with the operative words being “HARD WORK” and lots of it.

He immediately set out to find ways to improve the business and after much research and thought he set forth plans to develop a Cantonese style restaurant. There were many Chinese restaurants in the area but no other Hong Kong style restaurants. The game plan had been set and then the hard work began. He first removed all the pink items along with the gaudy decorations and cheap etched glass. They were all replaced with warm calming rosewood; apricot tiles soft table clothes. The bright lights were replaced with three different styles of mood lighting to enhance the ambience and give you a warm and inviting feeling. When it was all said and done he had created wonderfully sensual to the senses, smooth and elegant dining room where one can immerse themselves in a total dining experience.

Fact Sheet:

* Name: Sampan Cafe
* Location: 6116 Franconia Road, Alexandria, VA 22310
* Cuisine: Americanized Chinese Food, Cantonese Cuisine, and Szechuan cuisine.
* Capacity: 130
* Offers: Dine-in, Take-out, Delivery, VIP room
* Signature Dish: Boiled chicken with scallions, Fins Series, Sizzling Beef Fillet with Black Pepper
* Year of establishment: 1977 (took over in 2002)
* Phone: (703) 971-5404
* Owner: Gary Zhu
* Website:
* AYT Institute:
* Automotive:

The Food:

Mr. Zhu now had to plan the most critical aspect of any restaurant. He knew that no matter how amazing the restaurant may appear if the food does not match or exceed that level of elegance that the restaurant portrays then it will not succeed. In this market there are only a few chefs that he felt were qualified to run his kitchen unfortunately they were happy where they were. After an extended search he finally located a chef with the background, qualifications and experience necessary to bring a first class Hong Kong style kitchen to Alexandria Virginia in New York and recruited him to his restaurant. Not many chefs can boast a background such as his having worked in many fine restaurants throughout cities like Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Harbin.

At Sampan they offer wide variety of Chinese/American and Szechuan items but what they are most proud of and noted for is their wonderful Cantonese Specialties. Such specialties as Boiled Chicken with Scallions, The Fin Series, and Sizzling Beef Filets with Black Pepper all of which have their own specially prepared sauce recipes from home which give them their unique flavor and who’s ingredients are a well guarded secret. Their Cantonese style seafood dishes as well as their seafood fried rice make for lovely and colorful presentation and are local’s favorites. For the health conscious they also offer many healthy dishes including American Ginseng Soup specialties from Guangzhou City. Mr. Zhu is particularly proud of his chef and the delicious menu he has created. All Steamed cuisine cook with a minimum of salt or oil and no MSG. And Sampan Café had just granted TOP 100 Nutrition Friendly Award in the Top 100 Chinese Restaurant in USA 2007. They are also passionate about freshness. All of their seafood is purchased daily either locally or brought in from other major cities and ports and carefully handled to maintain maximum freshness. All of this attention to insure the utmost pleasurable dining experience short of actually visiting Hong Kong itself.

The Service:

With exceptional food you must follow it up with exceptional service. This the belief Mr. Zhu has instilled into the entire staff of Sampan. Every customer is special and will be treated that way. From the moment you enter and are greeted with a smile you will receive exceptional service. No glass will go dry; to make sure that everything is running smoothly and efficiently everyone has been designated particular responsibilities. You will always be treated with courtesy and respect by a well groomed staff. Many have been there for several years and are fiercely loyal. Mr. Zhu has established strong relationships with them and in turn they take a true caring interest in the business and this is reflected in the level of service they deliver. In order to make sure that everyone is working in unison towards the same goal they often have staff meetings and exchange ideas. Many times Gary has welcomed suggestions from his staff. He truly values their opinions which have helped to develop a mutual respect for each other.

The Owner:

Sampan Café originally opened in 1977 with different owners. In 2002 Gary Zhu acquired the restaurant and began its transformation into the magnificent restaurant that it is today. Earlier 2005, Mr. Zhu acquired another restaurant that originally had opened in 2001. Even though both are based on his basic philosophies they both have their own unique characteristics making each a unique dining experience.

Most of the time, Mr. Zhu is kept busy between his two restaurants, six automotive shops and his latest endeavor; the “AYT Institute”, a truly different type of automotive training school. With that type of workload you would think that there would not be any time for family life however, he reserves every Sunday for "family day". Sundays are spent with his wife and their children on different outings, dining out, or playing games. He enjoys “family day” very much, and he tries to always balance his work and family time as much as possible. A balanced lifestyle is tantamount to a good and fruitful life.

"Success comes from your harmonious relationship with your environment, your endeavors, and your confidence. It [success] does not happen by accident,” Zhu explains.


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