HOMEWOOD, Ala. (WIAT) — Sam Graphos, owner of Sam’s Super Samwiches in Homewood who came from a long line of Greek restaurant owners specializing in Birmingham hot dogs, died at home Tuesday after spending the last week in hospice care.
Graphos, 79, first went into the hospital over a month ago due to heart failure, according to his brother, Pete. After going in and out a couple of times, Graphos began to suffer from kidney failure. Pete, who founded the Sneaky Pete’s hot dog chain, said his brother has been in hospice care for a little over a week.
“It sort of happened quickly,” Pete said.
Sue, Graphos’ wife of 54 years, confirmed his death at their home in Homewood Tuesday afternoon.
Like many Greek families in Birmingham, the Graphos family spent decades in the restaurant business, all in Birmingham. His uncle, John Collins, ran the Lyric Hot Dogs & Grill for decades. His father, Ted, also ran two of his own restaurants and would help out at the Lyric.
Pete Graphos founded Sneaky Pete’s in 1966 and by 1970, “Sammy” quickly went into the family business, working with his brothers at the Sneaky Pete’s downtown and the one on 18th Street in Homewood. Graphos’ other brother, Jimmy, eventually broke out on his own and ran Jimmy’s Hot Dogs on the Southside until his death in 2016.
In 1978, Sam turned the Homewood Sneaky Pete’s– which had previously been a barbershop–into Sam’s Super Samwiches and worked there every week until getting sick in the last month.
“I’ve got the same customers,” Graphos told Southern Foodways Alliance in 2017. “I’ve got customers that came in with their parents when they were two years old, and now they’re bringing their kids and their grandkids, so I’ve seen about three generations of people, same people.”
Sue Graphos said her husband’s whole life revolved around the restaurant.
“God bless him, he went to work every day at 4 in the morning,” she said. “That’s all he knew. That was just his life. That’s what he did.”
Sue said “Sammy” had a deep love for his customers, one whose love they returned to him.
“They loved him and he loved them,” she said. “He had many more friends than I’ll ever have in my life.”
Pete Graphos said his brother turned his restaurant into a staple of Homewood.
“He had quite the following,” he said.
In an interview with the Birmingham Business Journal in 2001, Graphos said he had no plans of ever retiring.
“When I am 99, they are going to find me dead with my head on the grill,” he told the publication. “My son might take over the restaurant, but it’s a lot of hours and a lot of work. But for me, it’s my life and I love it.”
The restaurant is currently closed due to electrical issues.