Sambo's logo from the 1980s
The only remaining Sambo's Restaurant, in Santa Barbara, California (2005)
|Fate||Chain went defunct in 1982|
Number of locations
Sambo's is a restaurant, formerly an American restaurant chain, started in 1957 by Sam Battistone Sr. and Newell Bohnett. Though the name was taken from portions of the names of its founders, the chain soon found itself associated with The Story of Little Black Sambo. The character of Little Black Sambo in the original story is from South India, not Africa as so many assumed. Battistone and Bohnett capitalized on the connection by decorating the walls of the restaurants with scenes from the book, including a dark-skinned boy, tigers, and a pale, magical unicycle-riding man called "The Treefriend". By the early 1960s, the illustrations depicted a light-skinned boy wearing a jeweled Indian-style turban with the tigers. A kids club, Sambo's Tiger Tamers (later called the Tiger Club), promoted the chain's family image.
By 1979, Sambo's had 1,117 outlets in 47 American states. In the late 1970s, controversy over the chain's name drew protests and lawsuits in communities that viewed the term Sambo as pejorative towards African-Americans. Several of the restaurants were opened as or renamed "The Jolly Tiger" in locations where the local community passed resolutions forbidding the use of the original name or refused to grant the chain permits.
Additional corporate level decisions made at the time also led to Sambo's corporate demise. Pressure to take Sambo's into a more normal, salaried manager compensation package was one issue. Their unique "Fraction of the Action" promotion – whereby managers were entitled to 20% of the profits from their stores, with employees allowed to bid for a percentage of the remaining profits – was an early company expansion plan, and the growth of the company outpaced its control. In March 1981, in a further attempt to give the chain a new image the company again renamed some locations, this time to "No Place Like Sam's". By November 1981, the company filed for bankruptcy. Neither the name change nor bankruptcy protection reversed this downward trend, and by 1982 all except the original Sambo's at 216 West Cabrillo Boulevard in Santa Barbara, California closed their doors. By February 1983, 618 of the locations were renamed Season's Friendly Eating. Several locations were sold to Denny's, including the Fort Lauderdale store. Bakers Square's parent company acquired Sambo's in California in October 1984. Many Sambo's locations were converted to Bakers Square restaurants and the ones that weren't were sold to other chains, including Denny's.
Sam Battistone, Jr. is also the original owner of the New Orleans Jazz in the NBA. He later moved the team to Utah and sold it. Battistone's grandson, restaurateur Chad Stevens, owns the only remaining Sambo's.
There is another restaurant, "Lil Sambo's" in Lincoln City, Oregon, which also remains in operation. Although similarly decorated, it was independently owned by Ron Krieger and was never part of the above referenced Sambo's chain. It was originally named "Lil Black Sambo's" and, later, had the word "black" removed.
The chain's notoriety is parodied in F Is for Family as "Sam's Starving Boy", with its decor resembling many of the 1970s locations, and its mascot being a cartoon slave.
- "Market Place; Mistakes At Sambo's". The New York Times. 27 November 1981.
- "A New Name". Time. 118 (7): 67. August 17, 1981.
- Bernstein, Charles (1984). Sambo's: Only a Fraction of the Action : the Inside Story of a Restaurant Empire's Rise and Fall. Burbank, California: National Literary Guild. ISBN 9780866662024.
- Jones, Thomas David (1998). Human Rights: Group Defamation, Freedom of Expression and the Law of Nations. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 107–117. ISBN 90-411-0265-5.
- "Company News: Sambo's to Alter Northeast Names". The New York Times. March 11, 1981. p. D4. Retrieved January 3, 2008.
- "Chapter 11 Petition Is Filed by Sambo's". The New York Times. November 28, 1981. sec. 2 p. 30.
- "Across America". Sambo's Restaurant. Archived from the original on March 12, 2007. Retrieved July 26, 2006.
- "Six Area Restaurants to Get New Name". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. December 10, 1982. p. 6B. Retrieved April 20, 2010.
- "Denny's Expands in S. Florida". The Palm Beach Post. June 24, 1983. p. D1. Retrieved November 24, 2010.[permanent dead link]
- Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel July 21, 1981
- "The Move to Utah". HornetsReport.com. Archived from the original on June 26, 2015. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
- Witnessed the restaurant in Lincoln City, June 2, 2018