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The Story Behind Naming a Restaurant “Sambo’s”

What's in a Name?

Sambos Pancake shop
Sambo's Pancakes, San Bernardino, California, 1960's (Contributed | Roadsidepictures)
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Sambo’s once was a popular family restaurant chain, peaking in the late 1970s with more than 1,100 locations across the country. The founders said the name originally came from combining parts of their names: Sam Battistone Sr. and Newell Bohnett. The owners then chose to use images from the story of Little Black Sambo in their restaurants and names in the story to shape the menu.

In response to a curiousKC inquiry, Tony Bolden, associate professor of African-American Studies at the University of Kansas and editor of the Langston Hughes Review, shares his experience about going to Sambo’s as a child in California. He also discusses the history around the name Sambo, and the implications of using the name to make money.

The company filed bankruptcy in late 1981. Today, a single surviving Sambo’s remains open in California.

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