News and Tribune

December 17, 2013

MORRIS: Where everybody knows your name

By CHRIS MORRIS
chris.morris@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY — Nothing good comes from a text message after midnight, during the work week. A family member is either sick or stranded, or a co-worker has been arrested or involved in a wreck.

At 12:40 a.m. on Dec. 10 a text message came through on my cell phone that simply read “Sam’s tavern is on fire.” Indeed, it was an old friend in trouble, but there was nothing I could do to help except simply hope for the best.

However, the best on that night never came. Sam’s Food & Spirits, a New Albany institution for 29 years, was destroyed by fire. My generation’s Tommy Lancaster’s, as my sister always referred to it, was gone.

There is still no word whether owner Sam Anderson will rebuild at the Payne Koehler Road location. On an email blast to friends Monday, Anderson simply said, “We are working hard to make sure our staff is taken care of during this holiday season and in the months to come as I have difficult decisions regarding rebuilding.”

 Sam’s still has a presence in the area. He has a restaurant at Highlander Point and also owns Plantation Montrose, a banquet/catering location at 318 W. Lewis and Clark Parkway. But to me, there will always be only one Sam’s, the original one.

There were many reasons to love that restaurant. There was the food — mozzarella sticks, blackened fish sandwich, free popcorn and cold beer. There was the friendly staff, many of whom have moved on to the Highlander Point facility or to other local restaurants.

And then there was Sam, who always greeted me with either a handshake or a wave. Of course, I always blamed his food for  slowing down my jogs. Sam was a former teammate of mine at New Albany High School, so I was happy to see a local guy succeed.

Sam’s was indeed New Albany’s “Cheers” where everybody knew your name. It was also the site of my last victory as my team won trivia the day before Thanksgiving.

Sam’s New Albany’s location touched thousands through the years, and now many of those people are stepping up to help Sam’s 70-plus employees by making donations to a fund set up by Kiwanis of Historic New Albany at any River Valley Bank branch. All of the money will be distributed to Sam’s employees to help make their Christmas a little more merrier despite the tragedy. Other restaurants, competitors of Sam’s, have also offered their facilities for holiday parties already booked at Sam’s. People have been really hurt and stunned by what happened to their favorite restaurant and want to help any way they can.

This area is full of generous people, always willing to help out those in need or a worthy cause. When walking through The Salvation Army gymnasium Thursday afternoon and looking at all the toys and bags full of Christmas gifts ready to be picked up, I couldn’t help but think of all the people it took to make that happen. The money and items donated and the volunteers who helped package and hand out the goodies Saturday to needy families just to make someone else’s Christmas a little brighter. It speaks volumes about the character of the people who live in Clark and Floyd counties.

Will Sam’s rebuild? At this point no one knows. One thing we do know is that the Highlander Point location is open seven days a week and will absorb much of the New Albany business. So that is a good thing, all of Sam’s favorites, including the smiling faces, are still available at the Floyds Knobs facility.

But no matter what happens all of the laughter and good times that occurred at Sam’s in New Albany will never be forgotten. Both of my parents celebrated their 80th birthday at the restaurant and there have been other high points that are too numerous to mention.

While the fire was devastating it has been overshadowed in some ways by the outpouring of love and support from the community.

• Trivia Master Jane will hold a special trivia/celebration event at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Highlander Point location.

Also, donations for the employees at Sam’s can still be dropped off at any River Valley Bank branch. Checks should be made payable to Kiwanis of Historic New Albany with “Sam’s Christmas Fund” written in the memo field. Donations can also be sent to 2724 Quail Chase Dr., Sellersburg, IN 47172.