The CEO of the legendary Izzy's Steakhouse discusses the family business, food heroes and the best quote about hospitality anyone ever uttered.
Samantha DuVall Bechtel
As San Francisco institutions go, Izzy’s Steakhouse (izzyssteaks.com) is always included in the culinary pantheon. Launched by the late restaurateur Sam DuVall, the restaurant and the DuVall Family Restaurant Group are now run by his daughter, Samantha, who began her tenure at an inauspicious time: shortly before the pandemic. “Yeah, I know, crazy timing,” she says. She transitioned away from a successful commercial real estate career and the company (Chandler Properties) her mother, Carolyn, founded in 1979. “[Before I made the move], if someone asked me what I would be doing if I weren’t in real estate, the answer would have definitely been the restaurant biz.” After all, she grew up hearing the greatest restaurant stories, and now she’s creating and sharing a few of her own.
Biggest benefit of growing up in the restaurant business?
My father, a serial restaurateur of more than 40 restaurant concepts, had strong opinions about food and how to enjoy it. As a result, I was never allowed to order off the kids menu. ‘That’s not real food,’ he would say. Dad used to say he would eat anything as long as it was made with love. I hope to pass this down to my two toddlers.
What’s your favorite childhood memory from Izzy’s?
Tagging along with my dad after school to visit the restaurants before the start of service, when the team was setting up. If I got lucky, the bartender would make me a Shirley Temple.
What’s the best piece of business advice you ever received?
I remember being so nervous going into one of my first real estate presentations. My mom, who was my boss at the time, looked at me and said, ‘What’s the worst thing that could happen? They can’t eat you!’ I always think of that every time I feel nervous when heading into a meeting, and it makes me smile.
Who’s your culinary hero?
I have so many! Nancy Oakes, Dominique Crenn, Belinda Leong and the late Cecilia Chiang.
Oakes was one my early mentors when she opened the Michelin-starred Boulevard in 1993; Crenn was the first American female chef to receive three Michelin stars; Leong was the award-winning pastry chef who introduced me, and so many others, to the Kouign-amann; and Chiang was the Chinese American restaurateur famed for bringing Mandarin cuisine to the West Coast. These are all incredibly talented women in the hospitality industry who have worked so hard to achieve excellence in their field. When I was growing up, the industry felt very male-dominated, like most industries. I’m excited for my daughter to grow up in a world where there are so many more mentors that look like her.
Something people might be surprised to know about you?
I’ve been to every state in the continental United States by car. It was a goal of mine to go to the best restaurant in every state in the country. When I graduated from high school and was accepted to Boston University’s Hospitality Management program, I figured this was my chance. I did several cross-country road trips to and from school each summer.
Book you love so much you often recommend it to friends?
Setting the Table by Danny Meyer. This book is like candy for anyone who has a passion for the art of hospitality: ‘You think you are in the restaurant business. Forget about it! This is just a box—it’s a hospitality box. Put it out of your mind that you are selling food. You are selling happiness.’ I think he’s a brilliant restaurateur.
Photography by: BENJAMIN HEATH