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Incoming: Sam the Cooking Guy Opens Coo’s Coo’s Nest

The YouTube cooking sensation and partner Grain & Grit Collective debut their fried chicken sandwich shop


Sam the Cooking Guy strikes again. The lovable, highly intelligent, funny crankshaft (born Sam Zien) is opening Coo Coo’s Nest in the Little Italy Food Hall. The latest notable food person to go all in on the hallowed art of the fried chicken sandwich.

Sam’s built himself a YouTube empire of cooking videos (3.5 million followers and growing), and now his restaurant operating partners—Grain & Grit Collective—have helped him turn that magic into three concepts (along with Not Not Tacos and Graze by Sam).

Coo Coo’s Nest is setting shop in the space formerly occupied by Wicked Maine Lobster. The menu is lined with takes on the classic fried chicken sandwich and opens daily at 11 a.m.

Gotta love Sam’s story for getting here. Before becoming a fixture on tiny screens, and decades before collecting his 15th Emmy, Zien struggled to find his footing. He owned a froyo shop in Arizona, sold real estate in San Diego, and even managed a biotech facility. Unsatisfied, he decided to pursue a career in TV.

His original concept for a travel show became an idea for a food show instead. His niche? Using familiar and unpretentious ingredients to create bold, full-flavored dishes.



He did very well on local TV—he taught some people stuff while making them laugh—but it wasn’t until his son made dad stop making such long traditional TV episodes and embrace teeny tiny YouTube vids that he really rocket-shipped. Now you meet someone in Jersey and they’re like “Oh, San Diego? You know Sam the Cooking Guy?”

As for what to order at Coo Coo’s Nest, Sam says to bring a friend or two and skim the menu. When you’ve made your selection, choose something else. Disregard your first choice.

If you’d normally order The All-American (lettuce, tomato, onion, brioche) today, you’re trying Korean Fried Chicken. Keep in mind: it’s meant to get saucy. Accept the gochujang honey glaze into your life. Your cheeks are now a smeary canvas. Share, because you’re a giver. Cut those sandwiches in half and pass them around.

“I’m a sucker for a burger with bacon or a fried egg, and I think using condiments from other countries can upgrade your food life,” he says. “We make the kind of food people want and crave. When you take a bite you’re going to be like daaaamn! And you are definitely going to need a stack of napkins. We are a napkin stack kind of place!”

Have breaking-news, exciting scoops, or great stories about San Diego’s food scene? Send your pitches to [email protected].

By Jared Cross

Jared Cross is a writer who grew up near the US-Mexico border in San Diego. He credits this experience with refining his appetite for food and culture.

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