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The Saga of ‘Sambo’s,’ The ‘Racist’ Restaurant Chain America Once Loved

The Daily Beast offers another view of Santa Barbara’s Sambos, which turned 57.

Not too long ago, right here in America, there was a restaurant called Sambo’s. That’s Sambo: as in, the racist slur for a loyal and contented black servant. Or Sambo: as in, The Story of Little Black Sambo—the controversial 1899 children’s book by Helen Bannerman about a dark-skinned South Indian boy that eventually came to be seen as emblematic of black “pickaninny” stereotypes.

And far from playing down the connection to Bannerman’s book, Sambo’s played it up. The restaurant’s original mascot was—you guessed it—a dark-skinned South Indian boy. Oh, and did I mention that there wasn’t just one Sambo’s? There were 1,117 of them, actually. In 47 states. And there’s one still left today. Read full article…

If you are not one of the 10,500 people following Santa Barbara View on Facebook, you should be! Click Continue Reading for a local Sambo’s story left in the comments…

Ok… Here’s the scoop. Sam Battistone started the company. It was wildly successful. When I was in college, I worked at a very busy Sambo’s in Cleveland . After about a year, we got a new manager, Steve Fox, who was HOT!
I sunk my tiger claws into him, and we are still happily married 37 years later!
When he first started at Sambo’s, the managers were part owners, getting 20% of the profits. This was called a “Fraction of the Action”. It was a great incentive, & drove the sales through the roof. Hubby made a LOT of money!
In 1977, the Battistones got greedy, & suddenly reduced the managers’ percent to something ridiculous, like 1-2%. Subsequently, there was a mass exodus, which entailed the company having to repay all these managers for the investment they made.
This large outpouring of cash, combined with the insurgence of unqualified, untrained new managers ( as in relocated dishwashers, in some cases) is what did the company in!!!!!
We took our payout and headed to Santa Barbara, where we opened FRANNIE FOX’S Restaurant @ 534 State, where Joe’s is now.
My sisters, my brother, and my Mom all worked for Sambo’s as secretary, waitress, cook, & guest check lady! We have nothing but great memories of our time with the company.
Because of the company’s action, we were blessed to return to Santa Barbara, where we had a son, & lived blissfully for 8 years!
No, Sambo’s is not Denny’s now, although some Denny’s are in old Sambo’s buildings.
We also have a cat named SAMBO…
BTW… Little Black Sambo was Indian, not Black.
So there you have it! – Terri Rini-Fox


8 Responses to “The Saga of ‘Sambo’s,’ The ‘Racist’ Restaurant Chain America Once Loved”

  1. Grew up in Texas and the local Sambo’s was the go-to place for really good (toxic southern) breakfasts with stacks of pancakes, country ham, grits & bacon, and biscuits & sausage gravy. They had the original tile/glass east Indian storybook artwork (complete with umbrella and the tiger, of course) extending behind the counter above the pass for years, then swapped it out for a nondescript cut metal graphic piece as sensitivities changed. Soon thereafter the place morphed into a Denny’s. Glad Chad took this one on, but also miss his old place, Chad’s on Chapala.

  2. I grew up in a Mormon family I was/am gay It wasn’t accepted. But even then I knew this restaurant was wrong. Yay!… serve me pancakes, but sorry, it was stupid in the 60s/70s and it’s stupid now. I like vintage but not when it’s just dumb. Chad is not an idiot.

  3. Anonymous

    If one looks for reasons to be offended one will find them everywhere. What’s racist about a South Indian character? Pancakes are racist? And now that we’re on a roll with the Redskins our work is cut out now! Apache helicopters, Apache Servers, Tomahawk missles, the list is endless. I’m offended by being called white, a color, not the color I actually am, and now black isn’t ok anymore. The whole thing is ridiculous. So stop using white as a term for Caucasian Americans ya racists.

  4. I never thought that reading those colorful place mats about turning a bunch of vain tigers into butter would make me a racist….

  5. Daniel

    Am looking forward to articles which do not stir the pot.

  6. Good show

    Time for everyone to see Dinesh D’Souza’s new movie “America” and get over all this petty race-baiting nonsense. Get the fact and context before you hand out another fase serving of selective guilt.

  7. Bad show

    Sambos’ did not get “greedy” (typical anti-American hype – do see the movie America). SEC claimed the Sambo’s franchise plan was in violation of SEC regulations. That is what brought Sambo’s down.

    • Daniel

      What did Sambo’s do that it was in violation of SEC regulations?