Sam & Andy’s Forever

Those of you who lived, worked, or went to school in Knoxville at any time during the latter-half of the 20th Century (that's the 1900's for any of you who are chronologically challenged), will doubtless remember the greatest haunt on the strip of dilapidated buildings known to the Tennessee faithful simply as "Cumberland."   While I know there will undoubtedly be some of you who swear by Old College Inn, The Last Lap, The Library, Spicy's, The Varsity, or (for some ungodly reason) the Torch, and say that I am crazy, this is my ship and I decide where it goes (even if that is straight on to the rocks).  Yes, in my opinion, the greatest loss suffered by the Tennessee community in the last … well, pretty much since the Civil War, was the closure of the venerable eatery known as Sam & Andy's.

Sam & Andy's (circa 1998)

Due to the pressures of time, the almighty dollar, and the rise of crappy, half-assed, uppity chain restaurants, Sam & Andy's was replaced by McAlister's Deli (one of the aforementioned chains, this one owned by some dentist from Oxford, Mississippi) in 1998.

Sam & Andy's was my kind of place.

Sam & Andy's was as much a part of the university as Neyland Stadium and Ayres Hall.  It was a tradition for over sixty years on Cumberland.  It had been the job of Sam & Andy—both of whom retired or died many years before I first walked through the door—to oversee the nutritional well-being of generations of college students.   They served classic college food at reasonable prices in a surly and smug atmosphere.   Sam & Andy's was actually three different restaurants housed under one roof: Sam & Andy's Tennessean, Sam & Andy's Roman Room, and Sam & Andy's Deli. Each of three restaurants were connected (to hell with the fire code!) and served, more or less, the exact same thing for the same price.  Each of these restaurants, however, had completely different personalities and customers.  In fact many frequent patrons, such as me, rarely if ever ventured into any of the other areas; that is unless they needed to use the restroom or buy condoms from one of fourteen different machines on the wall in the single set of restrooms which served all three.   That building was a living tradition.

The Men's Bathroom Wall

I always frequented the deli which was in the rear of the building.  It was a simple open room with a chest-high white wood and formica counter running the length of the back and right-hand wall.   Near the door, the counter dropped down to waist level, and a small collection of little baskets containing salt and other condiments sat next to a neat stack of napkins, all of which sat in front of an old cash register which appeared to have come over on the Ark with Noah.  The left-hand wall was completely obscured by a floor to ceiling beer cooler like the ones found in convenience stores.   The front wall was home to a much smaller Coca-Cola cooler, several racks of potato chips and snacks, and a TV suspended on the wall which was always on but rarely seemed to be watched.  In the middle of the room were nine or ten plain white Formica tables with simple yellow vinyl covered chairs.   The walls, or at least the parts that could be seen, were light brown wooden paneling, and were covered with old newspaper clippings, pictures, awards, and beer posters.

The Deli Entrance

Over the grill, in the back, hung the menu boards.  From these boards a student or anybody who was hungry could order anything from a Hoagie, a Vol or Pizza Burger, to a Sub, or anything else in between.   It would always be served up in the same manner- on wax paper in a small red plastic basket with a pickle on the side.   In all of the hundreds of visits I made to Sam & Andy's, I don't think I ever ordered anything other than a Kielbasa Sandwich on dark bread (and it was really dark) with provolone, spicy mustard, and mayonnaise; well, except for a brief "angry" period in my college years when I ordered a few Ribeyesteak sandwiches.  While my coronary arteries are probably still reeling from these meals, my heart sure loved them.

The place smelled of meat and cheese. It was always hot in there because they steamed the sandwiches, which meant the room was pretty much constantly in a fog.  God, how I loved those steamed sandwiches.  Over here in ACC country where I live now, if you ask the guy at the sandwich place to steam your sandwich he looks at you like you just introduced the topic of nipple-piercing while having a conversation with the Pope.

Sam & Andy's was the kind of place that understood customer service and where they knew how to treat people right.  They tended to treat out-of-towners and uppity types like they had a contagious case of desiccated rectal cancer, the regulars—like myself—they simply ignored.  That said, once during my sophomore year I went there with my roommate, and realized I didn't have any money to my name. My buddy ordered his sandwich, and I just sat.  Then the heavyset guy behind the counter (I never learned his name, but he wore glasses and had blondish-brown hair parted in the middle if anyone knows who he was) asked what I was having.

"I've got no money, man." says I. "Ahh, you're in here all the time. Just write us an IOU." came the response from behind the counter.

Thus, that night I ate purely upon the value of my name written on the back of some old business card.  Now in the 1950's that might have been common in a small college community, but this was 1995.  I made sure to stop by the next day and settle my debt.

Best I could ever tell, George Captain owned the place during my years in Knoxville.  He was always behind the bar in the Tennessean part of the building. I think he was Sam or Andy's nephew.   I also know that a few other establishments around campus (Vic & Bill's Deli behind the law school and Gus' Goodtimes Deli on Melrose), were owned by other cousins.  I guess their philosophy was keep the competition in the family.

George Captain Anyway, in 1997, McAlister's Deli bought the land and Sam & Andy's closed.   I grabbed one of the last take-out menus before I left on the last day of business.

Sam & Andy's Menu (circa. 1998)

Sam & Andy's re-opened in the old Swensen's building across the street a few years later, but it wasn't the same.  The atmosphere was all wrong, and it was more like a "normal" restaurant.   They seemed to do a good business, but a year or two ago they lost their lease and Moe's moved in.  I hear that they still have places in Fountain City and out in West Knoxville, but I haven't been.

On the day that McAlister's opened in 1998, I chanted a hex on the restaurant that I learned from some voo-doo panhandler down in New Orleans in return for $5.00 for a bottle of Ripple.  I think either I said it wrong or got ripped off, because McAlister's hasn't burned down, I haven't seen un-dead zombies trashing the place, and there haven't been any swarms of locusts around the joint.  Still, I hope it gets hit by a bus, burned to the ground, and Mr. McAlister—whoever the hell he is—gets a chronic case of piles.

So next time you're on Cumberland, lift a glass to Sam & Andy's … and empty your bladder on the front door at McAlister's.

— Go Figure … lawvol


(c) 2007 "lawvol"

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91 Responses to “Sam & Andy’s Forever”

  • T-BoNo Gravatar says:

    I remember eating at the deli every Sunday night…two kielbasa sandwiches with mayo and onion then steamed. Still the best sandwich I ever ate. One time I went in late Friday, some big guy (I’d never seen him before) was behind the counter and said they were closed. Then a guy with brown hair, I think the one a few of you mentioned as the steamer, said that a regular customer didn’t need to be treated that way and made my order. And the time I went in with my trusty hockey stick (they play at the Civic Center now? Remember 11 p.m. starts at the Ice Chalet?) after an early finish and that same guy said, “Man, that game must be tough!” The little extras were what made the place!

  • Jonah PotterNo Gravatar says:

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  • Lilla NewtonNo Gravatar says:

    I grew up at the Roman Room. George worked there until it closed. Ralph always sat at the end of the bar and my parents new if I sat next to him no one would bother me. Some families had charge accounts at the drugstore but mine had a charge account at the Roman Room. I went to Tyson Jr. High School so after school we would take the bus and have an after school snack at the Roman Room.

    I learned a lot about different people growing up there.

    • Earl SharpeNo Gravatar says:

      What exactly did you learn about people at the Roman Room? Were you related ot any of them.

  • What a great website, been in hospital today and yesterday for some tests so to tired to explore whole site tonite. I will pass it on to others.
    Sam and Andy’s story just made me feel if I was 19 years old again on a late rain east Tennessee night only hours after taking a tour of the campus by one of those UT tour guides. I believe they are called hostesses. I was wet and tired since I left Memphis from Summer Ave at the site of the first Hoilday Inn and rode the hound across the state for 15 hours. Spent must of my time that day on the hill at the mecca of orange, Ayers Hall then took a tour with my guide and about 10 others past the shrine to Neyland, the touch and then around the great campus. I wandered, I mean got lost around 5 times to the strip to met my cousin and his boys at 4. The first place I ever ate at UT was this strange looking place called Sam and Andy’s. Boy was this place hopping on that summer night of 77.
    My cus showed at 6 and we left at 12. So many more memories, how many nights did I wake up face down in a hoagie after 1 too many on the strip. I would have starved on Sundays if it wasn’t for the old gambling pinball machines. I would start with a quarter play a point at a time, then come out some 5 bucks later, a hoagie, chips, 2 beers and a pkg of cigs, Bet you can’t do that now. Oh, the people who went through those doors. I remember George well and some of the others. How happy was the big polish dude who work in the deli the day the pick a polish Pope. He was so over joyed he just walk out and took the day off he celebrated for a week. Many friends. stories and memories.
    Thanks for the story. We need a Sam and Andy’s Hall of Fame. Another sign of getting old is having a garden railroad in your yard. I plan to have a restaurant in mine modeled after Sam and Andy’s with the cow on the top. Rest in Peace the world’s greatest maker of the steamed deli hoagie, and don’t forget the pickle.

  • davidNo Gravatar says:

    nothing better than roast beef and smoked cheddar on dark with mayo. damn it sucks gettin old.

  • ThomasNo Gravatar says:

    “Ham on rye with swiss and mayo”!!! That ws my once a week treat to myself – with a coke and a jar of peanuts. That was in 1972-73. I went back and ordered the same thing around 1980-81 after a football game with Vandy. It was as good s I rememeber it. If they were still open, I would make the trip now from Raleigh. Good website, and a fitting memorial.

  • FritzNo Gravatar says:

    classic graffitti on the men’s room wall:

    “don’t buy this gum, it tastes like rubber!”

  • DavidNo Gravatar says:

    It’s great to read about everyone’s memories of the Roman Room…

    I went to UT 69-74 and lingered kinda going to grad school and working a couple of years after graduating..

    The Roman Room was my home away from home….if I recall correctly a $1.10 for Vol Burger and 50 cent draft…George with his forehead covered in sweat always wiping the bar down or that towel draped over his shoulder…walking out into bright sunlight and heat after spending the morning and early afternoon in almost complete darkness drinking beer….

    Some other memories of that era include working as a bartender at the Sheraton Campus Inn behind the Krystal…a little ‘shop’ called LMG ( Lick My Grove) that used to be where Copper Cellar is now; Smoky Mountain market on Chapman Hy; cashing my paycheck from UPS at Cas Walkers on Chapman hy….

  • RHNo Gravatar says:

    I wish we could upload graphics here. I have a picture from the 1930′s of the original owners of The Tennessean and Sam and Andy’s. I also have a picture of Andy from 1910. This article is great. Thank you.

  • Leslie HoganNo Gravatar says:

    What a cool site, Cas and The Roman Room, two of the greatest, most memorable things about growing up in Knoxville. Thanks.

  • T Mark JNo Gravatar says:

    I had to see if S&A’s was still open when I began planning a trip to western NC. I dated a girl who attended Maryville College in the early 70′s and a trip to S&A’s was usually a given on any of my trips up from Jacksonville, Fl. Sad to say neither relationship endured. But, I still thought I would get back to the best “roast beef with mayo on a steamed white sub roll” I ever had would happen again some day. Now I guess not.

  • KhoonieNo Gravatar says:

    Pastrami on long dark with swiss cheese, sauerkraut and mustard. Man, that line moved fast and you’d better have your order down pat. The big guy with the dark greasy hair would then yell: “ALRIGHT, NEXT!” at the top of his lungs. Strangest thing I ever saw there was the night of the streaking in the Spring of ’74 when the police had to block off the strip because it was packed with crazy people and streakers. That night a lovely drunken coed somehow managed to get on the roof and rode the bull bare-nekkid while waving her only article of clothing, a cowboy hat!

  • boxcarjimmyNo Gravatar says:

    Roast beef on dark, sharp cheddar, mustard.mayo
    2 pickles…..please.
    a tall old milwaukee in a can and a bag of doritoes.
    perfection.

  • boxcarjimmyNo Gravatar says:

    i remember the streaking. i think.
    I also remember the night the bull disappaered
    from the roof. October 1982..Vols 28, Bama 21.
    Bear Bryants last appearance on the hill.
    The Bulls too. HAHAHA. what a night!!!!!!!!!

  • GaryNo Gravatar says:

    A hot pastrami with pepper cheese and spicy mustard on dark. Or a classic “reuben”. Do you realize, there is no other place in the world that served or serves “steamed” delis. God I miss the seventies. Came from Memphis to a whole new world of babes, beer, delis and ….. oh yeah….some school. What a life it was. By the way, the Sam and Andys on Broadway and out west are pretty damn good. Just not the atmosphere of the strip.

  • CharlesNo Gravatar says:

    Ohh Boy!! It took me on my memory lanes during my Grads days…. What a life that was… No worries, no tensions. I really miss all those good old days at Sam & Andy’s Roman rooms hanging out with my pals. Those were golden period in my lives and I always cherish them with weight of gold..

  • BenNo Gravatar says:

    My late brother, Rick, worked down at the Chevron station next to the RR bridge on west Cumberland. He was 18, I was 15. He took me to S&A after work one day. He suggested the roast beef w/smoked cheddar, fries, pickle slice and draught Pabst. I still remember that experience(40 yrs ago). Best damn sammich I ever had and the fact that as a young boy of 15, I could pass for 18. After Rick joined the Navy later that fall, I got his job at the Chevron. Hitched a ride every day from Bearden High to get to work. Then, always ordered the RB w/smoked cheddar. Ah, the good old days.

  • OldVolNo Gravatar says:

    We used to go to the roman room when we were carrick hall as freshman, save for Sgt Bill, back from Nam

    He had GI bill money and we’d sit there and drink up his army check once a month. Tour of the world’s maladies and much budweiser. Then we’d go next door. Ham and gouda steamed with mustard. I can taste it now.
    I was gone for 15 years and walked in and George said “Same for you pal?”
    I was blown away. He actually remembered me . It was a very sentimental time. Some wealthy UT grad needs to do the right thing
    Thanks all for the memories

  • BeckyNo Gravatar says:

    sure do remember Victor, tho he was on the Sam & Andy’s side. We usually parked at the Roman Room. veal parmigan w/o chees but w/spaghetti sause on It? no prob. loved it, it was always burnt, as were the pizzas which I loved. (like stuff well done & crunchy) had a friend who drove from Mt. Pilot, VA to the strip to get her “special” sandwich at the deli…(don’t remember what it was) but she was home-sick & it was her comfort food….this is what I remember written in the girl’s restroom…”the f*&king you get ain’t worth the F#$ing you get”…also, wasn’t that a weird little room off-set like that, with the jukebox in it that you “searched” while waiting to pee…..

  • Robert WilsonNo Gravatar says:

    I remember the old Sam & Andy’s back in the 70′s, when I was in school at UT. The food was excellent, and the price was always fair. Even after moving to Kentucky, the wife and I stopped there every time we were in town. The atmosphere when they moved across the street wasn’t as good, but the food was still fine. We stopped at the one in Farragut when we were down last weekend, and I can honestly say I have been to Sam & Andy’s for the last time. The restaurant appeared to be doing a great business, but the deli’s aren’t what they used to be. Small, little meat, and expensive, not to mention no where near as tasty. I will really miss them, and any college campus can have the normal crop of chain restaurants, and Sam & Andy’s made the strip special.

  • Jill MNo Gravatar says:

    Whoa, what a blast from the past. These pictures really bring back some memories.

    “Pastrami on long dark with swiss cheese, sauerkraut and mustard”

    Man…I miss this. Time moves fast eh?

  • AbbsNo Gravatar says:

    My wife is from Knoxville actually. She keeps pestering me to take her to this place. I thought it was just one of her crazy things but you’ve convinced me that Sam and Andy’s might just be awesome! I’ll try it out nonetheless. Thanks for sharing,

    Abbs

    Website: SEO Cape Town

  • JimNo Gravatar says:

    I lived in the Ft Sanders area in the early 70′s. Sam and Andy’s was a mainstay. I always ordered peppered beef with hot pepper cheese on dark, mustard and mayonnaise. Steamed of course. I don’t think you can get peppered beef anymore. At least, I can’t find it….and forget steaming the sandwich. Thanks for the pictures and the menu.

  • JohnNo Gravatar says:

    OK, I have to give my input on this great place. I was at school between 76-80, and enjoyed every sandwich from S&A’s. My favorite memories are going in and seeing the guy with the dark slick-backed hair, yelling at the next customer to order. My favorite sandwich was turkey with smoked cheddar, and steamed to death! They’d lay a pickle on the side and wrap it up, man I loved those sandwiches.

    I too went back years later after I graduated, and the food wasn’t the same. I really missed the guys working behind the counter, and wanted to enjoy one of those steamed babies one more time!

    I would have to agree, the best little spot on the strip.

  • andyNo Gravatar says:

    Howard Cosell..Monday night football..4 min.walk from Clement Hall for Turkey,smoked cheddar on dark..1970.. the deli in the back..always a line..do not think of hesitating when your turn to order came up.I think it was Victor …the short man who never smiled..had a commanding voice and called everyone “buddy. how bout Smokey mtn.mkt …Brother jacks….Otts barbecue….but nothing as much a vol heritage as Sam and Andys.

  • BrianNo Gravatar says:

    I also lived in Fort Sanders in the early 70′s and attended UT on and off for several years. What a disappointment to go back to Knoxville after 25 years and find both the Vol Market and Sam & Andy’s replaced by national chains. Sign of the times I guess, we are losing our local identities in the “global economy”. Turkey and smoked cheddar on long white forever, lol!

  • Billy StokesNo Gravatar says:

    I was a bartender at Sam & Andy’s from 1972-75. I worked in the deli some too. On rare occasions I was a short order cook and even rarer filled in for George Tony in the Roman Room (twice) while he absolutely had to be out. Otherwise he was there. There are some factual errors here, but what matters is that this writer has the right frame of mind about the place.

  • scottNo Gravatar says:

    Well, sorry to hear about S&As demise. I’m going to be in town for the first time in many years and was looking forward to visiting the deli.

    In the early 70s it was the best place for a sandwich. Usually Roast beef and sauerkraut on a kaiser w/mustard or Pastrami on darl with cheese and mustard.

    It was convenient from Clement Hall, my freshman and sophomore abode.

  • JimmyNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for the memories. I happened to spot this link on a google search somewhat accidently. I attended UT and subsequently UTCVM in the early to mid 80s. Knocked back a few brews at Sam & Andy’s in my day.

  • ScottNo Gravatar says:

    Kielbasa on dark with swiss cheese. Man o man. loved George. loved veal parmigiana.

  • chickenmanNo Gravatar says:

    Wow what great memories seeing the pics!Had my first illegal beer there 1967 I was a UT student ’65-’70 Returned in ’73 my last memory of the ‘room’ was George behind the bar back then there was only one beer on tap Michelob served in ‘fishbowl’ glasses all other beer was in 12 or 16 oz cans seems every male who worked there was named George or some variation thereof i.e. little George, George George, etc! I paid Knoxville a visit in 2010 and was amazed to see the’strip’ totally transformed except for of all things The Krystal Is it possible Krystals could survive a nuclear war?

  • fatarzanNo Gravatar says:

    Sam and Andy’s was incredible ! The Roman Room had a vibe I can’t replace . I attended UT in the mid 70′s and I hate that these establishments are gone . I make it a point to stop at the Farragut Sam and Andy’s every time I pass through Knoxville ! College food is a primal thing , let’s not forget Brother Jack’s BBQ , Stefanos Pizza or the Smokey Mtn Market on Chapman Hwy . S and A’s Roast Beef and Smoked Cheddar with mayo and mustard and a pickle is historic !

  • wooterNo Gravatar says:

    I was at UT 71-74. I was a Roman Room guy in the afternoons and early evenings and usually frequented Sam and Andy’s late.

    One aspect not mentioned here yet were the gambling pinball machines in the Roman Room. If you won you would tell George. He would check the machine, reset it, and get the money from the cash register. You would follow him into a small storage room. He would turn his back to you and hand the money to you behind his back!

    Vol burger and fries with an Old Milwaukee in the Roman Room. Roast beef and smoked cheddar on long dark in Sam and Andy’s.

    I would love to see a similar thread on Smoky Mountain Market.

  • ericNo Gravatar says:

    I am here on campus with my daughter for the orientation tour. Sad to see all the vacant storefronts on the strip. I told her about “beer busts”, the Vatican Pizza, the Last Lap and OCI. I knew times were dying when the Longbranch moved to the campus side of the strip. Farewell old memories…

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