Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott title=
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott
233 Comments
Reads 32510

Sambo's on Cabrillo Blvd in Santa Barbara | Robert Young/Flickr/Creative Commons License

By Lauren Bray, edhat staff

Local restaurant Sambo's plans to change its name and rebrand following calls to boycott for its racist name.

Santa Barbara resident Rashelle Monet started a petition on change.org earlier this week to change the name of the historic restaurant due to its racist roots. 

In American history, the term "Sambo" has been used as an identifier of a Black man, specifically in a degrading context in literature and minstrel shows.

“Sambo, the typical plantation slave, was docile but irresponsible, loyal but lazy, humble but chronically given to lying and stealing,” historian Stanley Elkins wrote. “His behavior was full of infantile silliness and his talk inflated with childish exaggeration.” Education specialist Jessie Birtha explained that “the end man in the minstrel show, the stupid one who was the butt of all the jokes, was Sambo.” [KCET]

Illustration from "The Story of Little Black Sambo" (Wikimedia Commons)

The restaurant chain started in Santa Barbara in 1957 by Sam Battistone Sr. and Newell Bohnett. They combined Battistone’s first name with the first two letters of Bohnett’s last name, and called the diner Sambo’s opening June 17 on beachfront Cabrillo Boulevard. They offered bottomless, inexpensive cups of coffee for 10 cents and a full breakfast for $1.25. 

On the walls were seven paintings of the story of “Little Black Sambo,” a retelling of the popular children’s book Little Black Sambo that was written by Helen Bannermen, a Scottish woman living in India. The book was published in America in 1900. With each reprinting, illustrations became more caricatured and offensive with the story being reset in Africa or the American South, reports KCET.

There were 40 Sambo’s Pancake Houses by 1965, during the civil rights movement, with handmade murals on the walls and Sambo dolls sold in every location, even Sambo masks given to each child. At its height, Sambo's had 1,117 locations in 47 states. 

As the chain grew so did objections. Civil rights leaders and city councils began to object as protests and lawsuits in the 1970s challenged the name. The owners pushed back contending it's based on the founder's names and only a small portion of people have an issue with it, but they also changed the name of some restaurants to “No Place Like Sam’s” and “Jolly Tiger.”

Jolly Tiger, Sambo's
Jolly Tiger sign inside Roy's restaurant on Carrillo Street | Thomas Hawk​/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Financial issues and company restructuring led to eventual bankruptcy that forced the chain to sell or close all locations, except Santa Barbara where it still stands today under the original "Sambo's" brand.

In 2014, Battistone's heir and Sambo's owner Chad Stevens told The Daily Beast, "We do get the occasional complaint. They want us to know the controversy of the name. And yet for every complaint, there are about 1,000 people who say, ‘Wow, I can't believe it’s still here’ — or ‘Open another one in our town.’"

Monet's petition to change the name garnered over 2,500 signatures as of Thursday with the plan to protest as she reached out to local officials.

Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams reached out to Monet stating, "Few people have ever accused me of being capable of being silent, but I accept your challenge. The name has always bothered me, despite knowing that the origins had to do with the owner's nickname. It still strikes me as being a bizarre anachronism that is hurtful because of the history of that term."

On Thursday morning, Monet took to Facebook to announce Sambo's owner had reached out and wants to change the name. Sambo's then took to their own Facebook page to make an official announcement stating they will be changing the name of the restaurant and while the future name is uncertain, it will not be Sambo's.

"Our family has looked into our hearts and realize that we must be sensitive when others whom we respect make a strong appeal. So today we stand in solidarity with those seeking change and doing our part as best we can. We will block out our sign with a message of peace and love as soon as possible and we are looking to work with the community to determine how we go forward. Please join us in this message of peace and love. 
Also please know we do not tolerate racism or violence. We are committed to being part of a long-term solution. And we ask our customers and neighbors to join us in that pledge," the restaurant stated.

Monet additionally started a fundraising page to help the restaurant rebrand. Within a few hours of posting it had raised over $1,700. 

"I also got a call from the owner of the restaurant and he has decided to rebrand! Due to Covid-19, the restaurant has already been suffering and I DON'T want to see it suffer more. He has at least $20,000 in branded inventory as well as an estimated $15,000 in cost to rebrand the restaurant! HE SHOULD NOT HAVE TO TAKE A FINANCIAL HIT FOR STEPPING UP AND DOING THE RIGHT THING!  If 3,500 people donate $10 we can all get through this and inspire change together! Here is the link to the GoFundMe account," she wrote.

One of the leaders of the local chapter of Black Lives Matter responded to the fundraising effort to help Sambo's rebrand saying the effort to rebrand is applauded but the community should not raise money for it.

"Sambo's needs to rebrand but they need to do that on their own dime," said Simone Ruskamp in an online video message. "Sambo's changed their name before and then they changed it back... they are committed to dehumanizing Black people. We will not pay them to do the right thing."

Ruskamp suggested for those who would like to help, to understand who is involved in the specific action, and if it is supported by the Black community. She urged allies to join a student-lead protest demanding racial justice that will take place at 12:30 p.m. near Stearns Wharf on Sunday, June 7, with a march at 2:00 p.m.

Several hours after this article went live, Monet updated her post to state the fundraising account has been removed and shared a screenshot of a response from Sambo's. 

"A group under the leadership of Rashelle Monet have kindly started a gofundme page to pay for the rebranding of the store. We did not ask Rashelle to do so, nor will we take any of the funds. We suggest Rashelle determine where those funds can be used for [the] good of our community," the post read.

The fundraising page was deactivated after reaching $2,570.


[Editor's Note: This article has been updated with a response by the local chapter of Black Lives Matter and Sambo's Restaurant]

Login to add Comments

233 Comments

Toggle Comments (Show)
JustAguy Jun 04, 2020 03:13 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

Had breakfast there 2 years ago. A guy in our group wanted an apple juice, .... it was nearly 5 dollars. When he asked for a refill they wanted another 5. That location had people out on the street waiting for a table every morning.....I’m not sure they need the money for a name change. There are many people all around you that need the help more. .....And the name was insulting for a long time before now.

jak Jun 05, 2020 08:50 AM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

Justaguy, the last gas I bought before leaving California was $4.95 a gallon. A week later once my car was delivered and I used up half the tank I bought gas in North Carolina ( a state with a rather high gas tax) for $1.98. Same grade of gas from the exact same Valero refinery in Bakersfield by the way. Five bucks for a glass of juice? Outrageous! And quintessentially California.

a-1594036897 Jun 04, 2020 03:20 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

JUSTAGUY - you ADMIT the name was insulting. So why not change it? Just because it has been insulting "for a long time before now," doesn't mean it shouldn't be addressed. In fact, that it has been offensive for so long is even more reason to change it. How is this even an issue? If the name bothers so many people, for so long, just change the damn name!

sacjon Jun 04, 2020 03:13 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

ALL OF YOU - if the name truly doesn't matter to you, then changing it should not be a problem. It clearly bothers many many people. So, if you're all being truthful in your opposition, then it won't matter one tiny little bit if they change the name. It WILL matter though, to so many others. Again, unless you're really just a closet racist, it won't matter if they change the name, except to those who are offended by it. Don't worry, I doubt they'll change it to "Cracker McWhitey's" or something, but if they do, you're free (and encouraged) to scream for change. Until then, simmer down or own your opinions.

Ryan93105 Jun 04, 2020 03:03 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

People live where they can afford. If I"m wrong, and there are instances of a black or mexican family attempting to buy a home in samarkand, or hope ranch, and being turned away due to the fact that they're not white (or white-ish as your stats suggest hispanics to be), that would be a horrible thing to be exposed in our city. Please, share any incidents where this has occurred, it might help us all better understand that to many, the color of our money simply isn't enough.

DBD Jun 04, 2020 09:01 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

There were 2 houses on my street that recently sold. I had absolutely zero idea who was moving in until i saw them unloading the Uhaul. Do you know how much work it would take to get in deep with the local real estate agents, research all the potential buyers, reach out to all lenders, build a strong relationship with them, and then influence who they let buy the home and move in? That is insanity.

a-1594036897 Jun 04, 2020 03:12 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

RYAN: Why can only whites afford to live in Hope Ranch, Montecito, the Riviera, etc.? Have you asked yourself that question? Is it a sign of a bigger problem/discrimination? Do the ppl who live there not want them there? Do they not want to live there? It seems strange considering there are many very successful and wealthy minorities including black folks in LA yet only the whites seem to come here. What is that all about?

Ryan93105 Jun 04, 2020 03:05 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

I goofed, this was supposed to be a reply to CORALINEJONES 2:33PM comment. "Most live in what many "whites" here consider undesirable and/or dangerous neighborhoods. SB is full of hypocrites. Black boxes on FB and holding signs doesn't cut it folks."

running_mike Jun 04, 2020 02:59 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

GROW UP people. Seriously, change the name because of riots? (Which are being paid to happen). When is the last complaint you heard about the name Sambo's? I've been here since it first opened and have never had anyone say they don't like the name or refuse to eat there because of it. Geez - what is the world coming to?

Chip of SB Jun 04, 2020 04:59 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

Yes, all the rioting and violence is a result of white supremacists infiltrating otherwise peaceful and non-violent protests. ANTIFA has absolutely nothing to do with any of the violence and destruction that is occurring. ANTIFA is a peaceful organization that promotes change through exclusively non-violent means. No, ANTIFA had nothing to do with the violence, its all those white supremacists who are to blame...

SoapBox Jun 04, 2020 03:24 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

Change the name because it is offensive to many and will not be good for business in the future. I guess it depends on the bubble you choose to live in. In 25 years, I know of only one local person who would go there. Visitors from LA, Ohio, New York, Texas and Florida have all remarked on how shockingly out of place it seems. (polite speak for WTF is that?)

a-1594036897 Jun 04, 2020 03:20 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

Hey Mike, my friends and I have been protesting. Taking breaks from our jobs without pay to do so. I didn't realize we were supposed to get paid, where can I get my check? Take your conspiracy theories to other websites please.

xpander Jun 04, 2020 03:27 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

How does that logic work out? No, I haven't personally heard of a complaint about their name. Been going there off and on since I was a kid. I have always been aware of the name and the controversy, but never heard of a complaint about it. All my friends were born and raised here, just like I was. Still trying to figure out your logic how you have any idea at all, let alone a good idea about the people I hang out with lol.

a-1594036897 Jun 04, 2020 03:25 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

3:21 - exactly..... "my white buddies don't have a problem with it, so why should anyone?" This is the problem, not just with Sambos, but with this whole thing. White people saying they haven't seen any racism, so there must not be. Try, just once, thinking about another person's feelings and point of view. It's not all about you!

a-1594036897 Jun 04, 2020 03:09 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

XPANDER - you and zero aren't from here it seems. There has been calls for them to change their name a few times over the 40+ years I've been here since birth. This is not something new, but it is more pronounced given the current situation.

xpander Jun 04, 2020 02:54 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

Zerohawk hit the nail on the head - where were the protesters and the outrage for the last 20 years over their name? The armchair and keyboard warriors come out in droves when it's convenient.

Ehdat Jun 04, 2020 02:43 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

Use the same letters and call it MOSABS and add a character with a magic flute... or BOSSAM and add the Korean Pork dish to the menu.. Cant do BASSOM, because he was a famous police officer, and we are supposed to hate the police right now; apparently.

a-1594036897 Jun 04, 2020 02:12 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

Glad the article was updated to show Black Lives Matter does NOT support the online fundraiser to help with the brand change. This restaurant chain spent decades silencing Black voices and profited off it. They will pay for their own rebranding or they will close. Simple.

CoralineJones Jun 04, 2020 01:45 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

I think the fact that SB's population is still 80% white and for some reason minorities cannot afford to live in all areas of SB also needs to be examined. Is SB racist? Is this a sign of a bigger issue with lending, discrimination in hiring, in this town or nationwide? Why aren't there more minorities living on the riviera, upper east side and the like? Let's not let this ball stop at Sambo's, let's dig deeper and do something to encourage a larger population besides whites in this town - and in all areas of town including Montecito.

bigman Jun 04, 2020 03:10 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

Why downvotes ? Did this hit a nerve with some? It's easy to scream racism when you return home to your lily white neighborhood but why do these ppl want to live in a lily white town to begin with ? We need to dig deeper here. Why aren't there more non-whites in our city government? Police? Living in wealthier areas?

Chip of SB Jun 04, 2020 02:51 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

1:45 - I think you bring up an excellent point. Wikipedia says that as of 2018, the population of California was just slightly over one third White. Back in 1960, that number was more like 90%. However, despite this dramatic demographic transformation white people are still massively over-represented in elected positions, high paying jobs, and property ownership. Perhaps a comprehensive affirmative action and land reform program is needed to achieve a more equitable distribution. Other countries have had excellent results with these types of programs. Changing names is a nice gesture, but if we really want to address the legacy of historical injustice in this country we need to take more concrete and substantive action, right?

CoralineJones Jun 04, 2020 02:33 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

RYAN according to the latest data yes SB is 80% white. If you break down or out hispanics/latin americans they are about 30%. How many of them live in Montecito, the riviera, etc.? Most live in what many "whites" here consider undesirable and/or dangerous neighborhoods. SB is full of hypocrites. Black boxes on FB and holding signs doesn't cut it folks.

a-1594036897 Jun 04, 2020 01:45 PM
Sambo's Restaurant Plans to Rebrand Amid Calls for Boycott

It's about time! What took the SB Sambo's so long?? Sambo's restaurants in other communities in CA, for example those in the Central Valley, changed their name back in the 80's because the name is OFFENSIVE. Santa Barbara would in general be considered more progressive than such communities, so why such an extensive delay? I've been scratching my head every time I drive past. I wonder what the tourists think.

Pages

Please Login or Register to comment on this.