Black Lives Matter Protest Sparks Name Change for Sambo’s

Santa Barbara Restaurant Has Long Faced Criticism over Racially Charged Name

Before altering its sign bubbles, Sambo's Facebook page showed a rendering of how it might look, with the message: "We are changing the name of our restaurant, what the future name will be is still uncertain, however it will not be Sambo’s." | Credit: Courtesy Sambo's

It only took thousands of protesters for the last standing Sambo’s in the country to change its name.

The Santa Barbara restaurant, which opened in 1957, was the first of the more than 1,000 Sambo’s restaurants that later opened up across the county at the height of America’s pancake house obsession. 

Protests over the name, which is a slur toward black people, began in the 1970s and forced locations to close or rename through the ’80s. The Santa Barbara location kept the name to honor the founders, Sam Battistone Sr. and Newell Bohnett, who named the restaurant based on a combination of the first three letters of one name and two from the other.

But the time has come for change.

“It started pretty innocently back then, 60 to 70 years ago,” said the spokesperson for the restaurant, John Davies. “There is a family history there so [the owners] wanted to keep that intact, but times have changed. The name is changing, immediately.”

Last week, thousands protested the murder of George Floyd and police brutality on black people like Floyd. The Black Lives Matter protesters demanded Sambo’s name be changed among other demands. Though this was not the first time outrage has sparked over the restaurant’s controversial name, it was the last time. At the same time, a petition with thousands of signatures began making its way around Santa Barbara circles for the name change.

“I can count on one hand the last 23 years the individuals who came in and asked for the name to change,” Davies said about why the restaurant picked this time to make the change. “It wasn’t a movement. When it was a larger chain it was, but [the owners] don’t have any connection to the larger chain.”

The owners, Chad and Michelle Stevens, declined to speak except through Davies. He said that they had “looked into their hearts, and wanted to stand in solidarity with those in the community hurt by this.” So, within the next two days, the Sambo’s sign will be removed and replaced with a peace and love sign.

What the name of the restaurant will be is still up in the air. Rumors are flying around town that “Sammy’s” will be the new name, but Davies said that is not necessarily true and they are still making a selection. He also said that they are still determining which art will remain for historical purposes and which will be rebranded. 

Rebranding is expensive. A GoFundMe was created by the same individual that started the petition. It claims to collect money to help the restaurant rebrand, though Davies said that while the gesture is kind, the owners did not ask for the help and will not be accepting money. One of the leaders of the local Black Lives Matter movement, Krystle Farmer Sieghart, said on Facebook that they “do not support this gofundme. Sambos absolutely needs to rebrand, but not on the community’s dime.”

The Independent tried to reach out to the GoFundMe organizer, Rashelle Monet, but was unable to reach her by press time. The account has already raised nearly $2,500. According to an email to those who supported the cause, the money will be refunded.

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