sam a.m. Café: A Beloved Jersey City Staple

Written by:

There are a lot of great restaurants and cafés throughout the varying neighborhoods of Jersey City. But, what separates the great from the excellent? There may not be a special algorithm to decide who takes the top spot in the Jersey City café category, but sam a.m. {yes, it’s intentionally lower case!} in Paulus Hook is a fantastic place to start the conversation. Having opened on August 31st in 2013, the cozy café describes itself as a “daytime café offering a simple, seasonally driven brunch menu” and has since built a fiercely loyal, hyper-local community of Paulus Hook regulars.

sam am jersey city

{Photo credit: @sam_am_cafe}

The Start of sam a.m.

When Sam Kirk was working in the NYC restaurant industry while pursuing a career in theatre, opening a neighborhood café in Jersey City wasn’t the initial goal. After recognizing that he was learning more about restaurant operations than the theatre world, Sam became passionate about opening a space of his own. He was itching for self-expression in the form of food and community, and thus the idea behind sam a.m. was born. sam a.m. opened its doors on August 13th, 2013.

sam am jersey city

{Photo credit: @sam_am_cafe}

The inspiration for the name came from many places. Obviously enough, the “sam” part of the café’s name doesn’t just stem from the owner’s name. Growing up, Sam read a book titled Sam Who Never Forgets about a zookeeper who is beloved for the care he gives to the animals at the zoo. The hope was for the simple name “Sam” to subconsciously evoke feelings of a trusty friend, as the owner’s goal was to create a community café that felt dependable like family and that was welcoming and warm. The rhymey “a.m.” part of the name is a homage to Dr. Suess and indicative of the fact that the restaurant primarily serves breakfast.

Inside the Neighborhood Café

sam am jersey city

The interior of sam a.m. has a rustic-yet-bright, cozy-yet-lively vibe. The sheer size of the café makes patrons feel at home. With seven tables and a handful of seats at the countertop facing their beloved, bustling team at work in the kitchen, the team at sam a.m. wants nothing more than for you to feel like you’re at home enjoying a plate full of homemade happiness when you visit. Spoiler alert: this might be better than mom’s cooking.

The interior brick walls and wooden shelves are adorned with unique prints and pictures, extra mugs and goods, and bags of sam a.m.’s very own coffee blend. Tables are adorned with a small vase of fresh flowers and accommodate groups of two to four.

A Mighty Good Menu

sam am jersey city

So many residents of Paulus Hook start their morning with sam a.m. – even if they aren’t indulging in a delicious brunch dish. The café’s unique coffee blend, roasted in Jersey City by MODCUP, keeps the a.m. in sam a.m. and customers coming in on the daily. Sam and his team worked with MODCUP to develop a blend that is “mild, gentle on the stomach, and full of nuts, berries, and chocolate.” The goal was to develop a coffee brew that can be enjoyed across the spectrum of dairy {and non-dairy} preferences. “Our philosophy toward coffee is that we want to make it the way it makes you feel at home but in a way that hopefully takes you to the next level,” Sam explains. Beyond a classic coffee, the menu touts an impressive array of espresso drinks and teas.

The food options {an ideal blend of both breakfast and lunch items, #score} at this Paulus Hook nook are crafted with locally-sourced ingredients and started as a celebration of Americana. The menu has since grown to showcase a broader American breakfast experience through the visions and creations of Chef Francis Samu and Chef Carlos.

sam am jersey city

{Photo credit: @sam_am_cafe}

Owner Sam believes the most important dish on the menu {and one of the most popular} is the chicken and waffles, as it is entirely unique and what he shared is “one of Chef Francis and my most important collaborations in the cementing of our relationship.” The chicken and waffles is a testament to collaboration in the kitchen and in flavors—marrying sweet waffles and cranberry syrup with rich chicken gravy. Each day, sam a.m.’s specials board features a dish with grits, which gives the team room to experiment in the kitchen and allows them to keep variety in a condensed menu. Other fan favorites include the biscuits and sausage gravy, Carlos’ Cubano, soups du jour, seasonal salads, and yummy sandwiches.

A handful of times a year, the café opens its doors for “Supper Club,” a pre-fixe menu, BYO dinner meant to simplify the experience of eating out. With a small-but-delicious pre-fixe menu and a BYO policy, Supper Club doesn’t require much decision-making. While currently on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, the intention of Supper Club is to invite the community to enjoy great food with your partner/friends/family and just be present. “Come in, be part of the fun and be taken care of – that’s it, says Sam.

The sam a.m. Fam

sam am jersey city

A major part of what makes sam a.m. special is its staff. Sam says, “I look back over the payrolls of sam a.m. from time to time and see just how many people have been a part of this family over our first seven years and amazingly there are several who have been here from the beginning, some who come back from time to time and some whose impact will be felt for a long time.”

Those who frequent sam a.m. know that one of the long-time, special “family” members is Chef Francis {pictured on the right, below}. Sam met Francis one week before opening sam a.m. in 2013 and to this day considers it an incredibly fortunate meeting. Francis helps to design the menu at the café, but is also an integral part of patron happiness and sets the wonderfully friendly, inviting tone of the café whenever he steps foot inside the intimate space. Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, sam a.m. even added a quirky, new t-shirt design to its merchandise offerings that says “no school today?” with Francis’ face on it. Rumor has it, it’s a best-seller.

Sam is incredibly proud of the family that sam a.m. has become, expressing that he truly believes his staff is “some of the hardest working, most giving and thoughtful people I have ever met.”

Commitment to Community

sam am jersey city

One of the most admirable aspects of the family and staff at sam a.m. is their overwhelming commitment to the Paulus Hook community. 

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders, sam a.m. donated pounds of fresh food to its neighbor York Street Project, a Jersey City-based non-profit organization and neighbor that creates “innovative programs to shelter, feed, educate, and promote the healing and independence of persons in need, especially women, children, and their families.”

After recognizing that local residents were also having trouble getting access to fresh produce and food, due in part to a slow down in grocery delivery services, the café launched a grocery service. Requiring customers to live within a one-mile radius of the café for safety purposes, sam a.m. offered fresh produce and herbs from local farms, Bell and Evans poultry, Pat LaFrieda meats, Amy’s Bread, fresh pastries, and more. Sam and his team were both happy and proud to be able to rise to the occasion when they were needed, making people feel taken care of and safe. That said, the service has since ended and Sam is “more than happy” to let the grocery stores and markets do what they do best, leaving his team to focus on what they do best – cook! 

sam a.m. will celebrate seven years of business in September and owner Sam Kirk couldn’t be more grateful for the community that has joined him, his family, and his cafe family along for the journey. He shares,

“We’ve seen couples go on their first dates, get engaged, exchange vows, and welcome children.  We’ve made great friends and had sad goodbyes.  We’ve weathered storms and disasters, had triumphs and failures, and everything in between. Through it, all outside of my children, a day at work at sam a.m. is the greatest joy of my life.” 

Nestled on Morris Street between Warren Street and Washington Street in the Paulus Hook neighborhood of Jersey City, sam a.m. is accessible by foot from the Grove Street or Exchange Place PATH Stations in under 15 minutes. The Marin Boulevard Light Rail stop is only 2.5 blocks away, as well. 

sam a.m. is open every day from 7:00AM – 3:00pPM for coffee, espresso drinks, breakfast, and lunch items on-the-go or to stay. They currently offer outdoor dining via their new parklet, which is available for grab-and-go guests during the week and for casual service on weekends. 

If you find yourself in Paulus Hook, stop by sam a.m. The coffee and fare will entice you to stop by, but the staff will keep you coming back. Don’t expect green eggs and ham, but do expect a lovely time at sam a.m.

Have you eaten at sam a.m yet? Tell us in the comments!

EMAIL BUTTONS


Written by:

Nicole Gittleman is a born and bred Jersey girl who grew up in Bergen County but has called Jersey City home for nearly 5 years. Nicole works in content marketing at a JC-based creative studio and loves creating her own JC #content on her Instagram (follow her @nicoleraye_). Outside of her 9-5, Nicole loves to travel, cook, plan events for her friends and family, support small businesses, and cheer on her teams (go Devils and Giants!).