Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5
Subscribe

Build A YouTube Following With Authentic Content

Interview with YouTube Star Sam Zien The Cooking Guy about growing his popular YouTube channel and restaurant empire.

By
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Two decades ago, Sam Zien was at a crossroads in his career. 

Aspiring to leave his 9 to 5 and become a content creator in the travel space far before it was trendy, the devastation surrounding the 9/11 attacks put his plans on hold. 

Dejected and confused, Sam saw a piece of content that was so inspiring it changed his life forever. 

“I came across a really horrible in-studio cooking segment that was so bad,” recalls Sam with a laugh. “That was the light bulb. Maybe I could do it better?” 

20 years, 15 Emmys, five cooking books and three million subscribers on YouTube, it turns out Sam was right.

Affectionately and professionally known as Sam the Cooking Guy, the real-life restaurant influencer who serves as the face of Graze, Not Not Tacos and two Samburger locations has flipped the food industry on its head by simply being himself. 

A man of many hats and few cares, Sam has defined conventional wisdom by creating concept restaurants that serve mashed potato tacos and popular videos that teach young men how to cook. 

“I think you learn more when you’re enjoying it,” notes Sam. “YouTube is a really simple concept: it's not about you, it's what your customers want.” 

While Sam admits it took him seven years to discover this simple truth, the proof is in the pudding as Sam is teaching the world how to cook simply by teaching them to make things they can actually make. 

Sometimes, this even includes the top dishes at his concept restaurants.

“Our number one taco is Korean short rib taco,” Sam says of Not Not Tacos. “It’s been for all three plus years we've been open. It's always been number one, and I've done it on YouTube. I've shown people how to make it and it's still number one.”

Fearless? Maybe. Smart? For certain.

Case in point, while terms like ‘disruptor’ get thrown out often in marketing meetings or on LinkedIn posts, Sam is truly that glitch in the matrix we call the food space.

His secret ingredient? Being himself.

Since having the gumption to do a better job of creating a cooking show than the in-studio one he saw on the local morning news, Sam’s been able to leverage his on camera and in restaurant success by being the same Sam day in and day out.

“Authenticity is everything,” Sam states. “The world didn’t need another Bobby Flay or Emeril, they needed somebody unique. There’s no TV Sam versus non-TV Sam.”

Though Sam speaks without censor and shoots from the hip when it comes to his concepts, his heart has always been with that of the customer. 

As anyone in the hospitality industry knows, this is when the best work is done.

“I feel like we’re really teaching people how to cook,” Sam says of his channel. “I get that comment every day and it really makes me happier than anything.”

From cringing at a local cooking show in 2001 to having his own hit in 2021, Sam the Cooking Guy isn't afraid to share a reaction and he isn't shy to take on a challenge.

***

NOMINATE A RESTAURANT INFLUENCER — Do you know someone who is killing it on social media? Let us know by emailing influencers@calibbq.media or sending the @calibbqmedia team a DM on social media.

SIGN UP & SUBSCRIBE

ABOUT RESTAURANT INFLUENCERS:

Are you SICK and TIRED of scrolling through your social media feeds and not seeing your business anywhere?

Welcome to the Restaurant Influencers podcast series, sponsored by Toast.

Latest

This Entrepreneur Believes the 9-to-5 Work Week Is Dead. So She Created a Platform That Matches Talent With Project-Based Work.

The founder of NuuWork shares how her company will help people navigate the future of project-based employment.

How This Company Is Helping Ecommerce Brands Scale and Grow

The co-founder of 8fig shares how his platform is helping online sellers plan and execute their growth around their supply-chain needs.

Eitan Bernath on Becoming a Teenage Food Entrepreneur and Social Media Star

In-depth interview with cookbook author, food personality, and content creator Eitan Bernath about starting an entertainment career as a child, teaming up with Drew Barrymore, and building an inspirational business empire before his 20th birthday.

Ask Marc: Netflix Co-Founder Marc Randolph on Facing Challenges, Bringing on Co-Founders and Growth

In this episode of our new series 'Ask Marc,' the serial entrepreneur and mentor offers advice on how to get started.

3 Science-Backed Ways to Break Bad Habits

Become powerfully productive with these three patterns.

Meet the Co-Founders Making Conscious Shopping Easier

Goodbuy's Cara Oppenheimer and Cary Telander Fortin share how their browser extension helps consumers buy products with both their wallets and values front of mind.

Nina Manchev of Forte Tapas on Engaging Customers with Social Video

Interview with Forte Tapas owner and entrepreneur Nina Manchev about connecting with social media, learning to be confident on video, and appearing on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.

This CEO Believes We Need More Women In Crypto

Jaime Leverton, head of NASDAQ-listed Hut 8 Mining Corp., talks the future of digital currency with 'Entrepreneur.'

How to Create Your Path to Profit

Financial expert and author Michelle Jacobik is on a mission to help people be profitable, so she created the EnVision + Thrive Academy. She shares her journey to success, business tips and what you'll learn in her new book.

Toast CEO Chris Comparato on Why Restaurants Need a Tech Partner That Cares

Interview with Toast CEO Chris Comparato about leading with the customer in mind, having a digital-first mentality, and how technology like Toast is helping restaurants thrive.

The Science of Visualization: Maximizing Your Brain's Potential

In this video, we discuss why visualization is so effective and offer four tips to harness it.

How One Company Is Creating a New Financial System to Help Today's Workforce

The founder and CEO of DailyPay shares how his company is creating a new financial system to help today's employees get paid faster.

Ask Marc: Netflix Co-Founder Marc Randolph on Staying Motivated, Morning Routines and Setting Priorities

In this new installment of our 'Ask Marc!' video series, Marc Randolph offers inspiration and insights to new entrepreneurs.

How Tech Entrepreneur Angela Homsi Leverages Sustainable Innovation to Bridge Global Boundaries

Born between two worlds, the Ignite Power founder is helping ensure universal access to essential services.

Stratis Morfogen on Using Disruptive Technology to Improve Hospitality

Interview with Brooklyn Dumpling Shop Co-Founder Stratis Morfogen about using new technology at the Brooklyn Dumpling Shop and his other creative dining concepts, and how to be disruptive to improve hospitality.

Discover Entrepreneur Series

Whether you need advice on how to get your business off the ground or you’re just looking for inspiration, our video series have something for everyone. Browse our library below to find a series that speaks to you and your interests.

  • An original series streaming weekly where you can Click-to-Invest while you watch. THEIR JOURNEY. Your decision.
  • Your favorite pitch show is back with new entrepreneurs pitching Entrepreneur's investors.
  • Host Nicole Walters interviews small business founders to discuss their unique challenges and experiences running and growing a business. 
  • How many times have you been told “that will never work”? Probably not as often as Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph. The veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur provides a healthy dose of humor, and actionable advice that will benefit founders - and would-be founders - at every stage of their business journey.
  • Jessica Abo covers the causes people care about, the powerful work they do and how they got to where they are in the first place.
  • Bestselling author, Ben Angel, takes his audience on a journey into the entrepreneurial mind to uncover why we do what we do through his powerful short films and educational videos so you can unleash your ideas and potential.