Sam Danny passed away last week. After decades of presiding over the longest-running social group at Starbucks, the “Mayor of Starbucks” has died. His loss will be felt by hundreds of friends who’ve visited, passed by, waved, chit-chatted, or sat down and argued and agreed with our dear Sam.
Two decades ago, Sam invited Carrie and me into his social circle and that invitation changed our lives. Today, our best friends and widest group of associates emanate from that circle. Sam introduced us to some of the brightest, most fun, most compelling characters in the Santa Clarita Valley.
A decade ago, I wrote a piece in The Signal about Sam. In honor of his life and in respect of his passing, I’m sharing some thoughts from that column, brought up to date on timelines. I sadly add that COVID-19 quieted Sam’s actions this past year, as, like many old folks, he has been constrained in his home. That sadness aside:
Meet Sam Danny. Official founder and mayor of the Granary Square Starbucks Morning Hangout Club. At age 90, Sam shows up every morning before sunrise, arranging chairs around a table centered in the coffee shop. Then, one by one, a kaleidoscope of friends, acquaintances, rascals, scoundrels, Republicans and Democrats filter on through, all stopping by for a sit and a chat and then off on their rush to wherever they go. Usually the banter’s loud. Generally, it’s rowdy. And always, it’s about the funniest place in the SCV during the morning commute hours.
Says Sam, “For $2 it’s the best show in town. We’ve got music, coffee, jokers, politicians and therapy. It’s like a reform school for adults…”
Sam has been running this show for over 22 years now. Sam first moved to the SCV just weeks after the ’95 earthquake. Naturally streetwise with “dough,” Sam snapped up his two-bedroom Sienna Villas condo for $105,000 just one week after the shaking stopped. Recalls Sam, “There were two one-bedrooms for $50,000 apiece? Can you believe it? People were running away from the earthquake and just giving their homes away.”
So, taking his own advice, Sam moved to the SCV. “You gotta buy low when the time is right.” And Sam shares his advice freely, offering financial and stock views to anyone with ears, each and every morning. His pushback post-recession: “Buy Ford.”
“They made $2.5 billion in a terrible year. Think of what they’ll do as the market turns. And now with Toyota in trouble – Ford’s a no-brainer!”
Over the years, Sam’s served as ad hoc de facto social and financial counselor to younger people who’ve graced the table. “I got a bunch into mutual funds years ago and when I bump into them in the market, they still stop to thank me and give me hugs.”
“But young people,” he says, “they’re hard to help. Don’t generally want to listen. You’ve got to be nice, but firm and tough.”
At 90, Sam can look back proudly at what his “nice, but firm and tough policies” have yielded. Two sons who were top in their classes in academics and sports and matured as accomplished professionals. And his famous grand-daughter, Hart athlete Jordan Danny, broke a bazillion swimming records at Hart High School and attended USC on full scholarship.
“Tough, but fair,” advises Sam. “I never let my kids out until their homework was 100% done.”
“Dad,” he says they still say, “You were tough, but you were the best.”
Sam’s eyes tear up just a bit when he quotes his kids. He’s got a hard outer shell, but he’s soft on the inside and surely misses his boys. And he misses his twin brother he cared for while he was dying of cancer a few years back. Inseparable, they owned meatpacking businesses together, bet on horses together, and as kids, never missed a USC football game, hitching rides on the electric trolleys running from their City Terrace home down to the Coliseum.
It’s hard when life forces changes, when your kids grow up and friends and family move on or pass away. One has to decide to either grow with the change or shrivel up and go on hold. I suspect the reason Sam’s so popular is that even in up to 90, even after so much change, Sam has kept engaging. He’s kept giving. Kept reaching out to his community. Kept making friends and doing good things.
For years, Sam and Starbucks friend Sol Sorgenstein drove our local bagel shops and Starbucks stores each morning, delivering day-old bagels and treats to the Boys and Girls Club, Senior Center and Sheriff’s Station. When they had extra, they’d even take the treats to the sales rooms of the local car dealerships just to make the salesmen’s lives brighter. Five days a week Sam and Sol made their rounds preforming this selfless service.
Twenty years ago, Sam started working the voting polls and did so for a decade until medical problems set him back and slowed him down. What a better way to reach out and give back! Even when he needed the SCV Dial-A-Ride bus for transportation, Sam still made it to Starbucks, to meet and greet his friends, to make new ones – and to hand out a little advice to whoever will hear.
The famous essay, “The Road to Self-Renewal,” by John Gardner, begins, “It is a puzzle why some men and women go to seed, while others remain vital to the end of their days.”
Right here at Granary Square, Sam Danny exemplified that vitality. Of the group, he’s certainly the happiest and enjoys the widest array of friends.
I want to be like Sam Danny. I want to reach out and give back and stay connected and vital… “To the end of my days.”
And you? Citizen Danny showed us something tangible we can put to good use. Imagine our Santa Clarita, if we all looked at each other with a smile and outreached, helping hand? Imagine, if we were all determined to remain vital and giving all our days?
Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.