Monday, May 6, 2013

The Other Trader Sam

Postcard image of Trader Sam's Seafood in Garden Grove, circa 1966.
You’ve heard of Trader Sam’s, the snazzy modern tiki bar at the Disneyland Hotel. And you’ve probably heard of Sam’s Seafood, the landmark tiki palace in Sunset Beach, which recently became Don the Beachcomber's. But what’s "Trader Sam’s Seafood?" Could it be a mash-up of the two locations?

Actually, Trader Sam’s Seafood was a third and separate establishment located at 8641 Garden Grove Boulevard (now a vacant lot), in Garden Grove, California.

Sam E. Frudakis was born in 1918, in Bennywood, West Virginia, and served in the Army during WWII, in the 148 Field Artillery, Division 41. In 1953, he moved to Long Beach, California, where he ran the Checkerboard Cafe on the Pike and the Olympia Cafe on Ocean/Long Beach Boulevard.

Around 1960, Sam had a stroke of great luck that would change his life forever. Sam bought a more-than-100-year-old piggy bank at a Long Beach second-hand store for $6.12. Inside, he found a handful of Hawaiian coins which proved to be rather valuable. The haul included railroad and plantation tokens, commemorative coins, and an 1856 penny which he sold for $1,200. He later discovered the penny was worth $2,100, but his piggy bank find still brought him a roughly $4,000 in total profit -- Enough to launch a successful career as a coin and stamp dealer.
This token, struck for the Haiku Plantation in Hawaii, represented about one day's wages for a plantation worker.

Sam opened a coin shop at 30 Long Beach Blvd., in Long Beach. Caught up in the Polynesian-Pop craze of the era – and perhaps inspired by those special Hawaiian coins – he called his store “Trader Sam’s Coin Shop.”

In 1961, the Los Angeles Times reported that Sam had chased an armed man, who had robbed a neighboring store, over three blocks before catching him and turning him over to the police. He wasn’t just a success, he was a hero!

Trader Sam’s Coin Shop eventually moved onto Ocean Boulevard, around the corner from the Olympia Cafe.

Soon, Trader Sam and fellow numismatist Ray Lundgren launched the annual Long Beach Stamp & Coin Exposition, which was the largest event of its kind in the world. It was first held at the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium in 1964, and is still held today at the Long Beach Convention Center.

Flush with success, Sam opened a restaurant in Garden Grove called “Trader Sam’s Seafood.” He remodeled the place in 1966, adding exotic-styled d├ęcor and even a waterfall. But it doesn’t seem that the place survived very long.

In 1975, Sam was convicted of transporting stolen stamps across state lines. He was part of a group indicted by a federal grand jury on conspiracy charges relating to $1.2 million worth of stamps stolen from another dealer in 1971. He was fined $10,000, put in jail for 10 days, given 800 hours of community service, and placed on four years probation.
You can't order a rum-based drink at this Trader Sam's.

When his four years were up, Sam moved to San Francisco, where he opened another Trader Sam's Coin Shop at 498 Valencia St., in the heart of the Mission District. There he rebuilt a solid reputation as a coin dealer and spent the rest of his working life. He died in San Francisco on the last day of 2009. The obituary gave Sam E. Frudakis's full name, but said he was "better known as Trader Sam."