Sam Zien, aka Sam the Cooking Guy, whose friendly face has been a part of local and national food programming for more than a decade, is stepping out from behind the camera to be the frontman of a new food hall coming to Little Italy that will also house the Emmy-winning TV host and cookbook author’s very first foray into restaurant ownership. In addition to running his own eatery, Zien will also function as the Little Italy Food Hall’s ambassador, giving cooking demos on-site and serving as the face of the new project, which is part of Piazza della Famiglia, H.G. Fenton Company’s multi-use development that spans W. Date Street from India to Columbia and features vast residential and retail space along with an 11,000-square-foot European-inspired courtyard.
Set to open Summer 2018, the Little Italy Food Hall is by San Diego-based hospitality group Grain & Grit Collective, an extension of Sweet 100 which has helped to develop and expand local brands including Carnitas’ Snack Shack and Broken Yolk Café. Spanning 4,685-square-feet plus an outdoor patio, the food hall will include six food vendors, a mobile chefs’ area for pop-up cooking demonstrations and a bar serving craft beer and cocktails. Inspired by the neighborhood’s maritime history, the design will feature nautical references in color, materials and architectural elements.
Zien says he was attracted to the food hall concept because of its manageable size and scope, which allows him to take a leap into restauranteurship without the challenges of building and running a full-scale restaurant. Although, he doesn’t rule that out for the future. His new counter-service eatery, called Not Not Tacos, will feature his “everyman cook” version of tacos. Described as “not your grandmother’s tacos”, Not Not Tacos will use tortillas as a delivery system for Zien’s eclectic style of cooking, including some popular dishes from his shows; think pastrami and eggs, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and salmon. Customers might see Zien himself manning the eatery’s griddle, but he says it won’t affect the production of his cooking show.
Sharing the Little Italy Food Hall with Not Not Tacos are additional outposts from two tenants at the Liberty Public Market — Roast Meat & Sandwich Shop, which originally hails from Victoria, BC, and New England seafood specialists Wicked Maine Lobster — as well as an offshoot of Milan-style pizzeria Ambrogio15, which opened in Pacific Beach last summer. The vendors for two additional spaces have yet to be announced.