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Sambo’s Restaurant

Recently discovered in my parents’ basement is this wooden coin from the old Sambo’s Restaurant, which was located where the Miller Hill Mall Perkins is today. Sambo’s was a chain with over a thousand locations during its heydays in the 1970s, according to the Wikipedia entry.

These coins are all over eBay, representing numerous cities, so although I don’t see any Duluth ones for sale, I assume this is not a rare item.

I remember the Sambo’s name, and I’m sure I ate there a few times as a kid, but I don’t have any specific memories. It’s interesting/upsetting to note that apparently “sambo” is a racial slur, which contributed to the demise of the restaurant chain. As the Wiki entry for the children’s book The Story of Little Black Sambo notes:

A popular U.S. restaurant chain of the 1960s and 1970s, Sambo’s, borrowed characters from the book (including Sambo and the tigers) for promotional purposes, although the Sambo name was originally a combination of the founders’ nicknames: Sam (Sam Battistone) and Bo (Newell Bohnett). Nonetheless, the controversy about the book led to accusations of racism that contributed to the 1,117-restaurant chain’s demise in the early 1980s. Images inspired by the book (now considered by some racially insensitive) were common interior decorations in the restaurants. Though portions of the original chain were renamed No Place Like Sam’s to try to forestall closure, all but the original restaurants in Santa Barbara, California had closed by 1983.

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5 Comment(s)

  1. I remember eating pancakes at the Sambo’s in Mankato, looking at the paintings on the wall or maybe a placemat (of the Little Black Sambo story) and having my mom tell me the story of Little Black Sambo. My husband recounts going to the Sambo’s in Duluth and going into the bathroom unescorted by a parent only to end up ripping the sink off the wall while washing his hands.

    krlars2 | Feb 25, 2013 | New Comment
  2. They also had locations on London Road and Hammond Avenue in Superior where Pizza Hut is located.

    Drab T-Shirt | Feb 25, 2013 | New Comment
  3. There was a Sambo’s at the south east corner of 15th and London Road in the mid/late 70′s. I lived on South St a half a block away at the time. It was like a cross between Perkins and Denny’s. There was quite a bit of flack eventually about the name and racial implications -- their graphics were all related to he story of “Little Black Sambo.”

    its like Durian | Feb 25, 2013 | New Comment
  4. I dined at the Miller Hill location as a child. It pains me that my parents never once made mention of the fact that the place was clearly a racist slur, especially once it went away. Race relations have never been their strong suit, but at least they were never openly bigoted.

    Vibe | May 25, 2013 | New Comment
  5. We lived in Carpenteria just south of Santa Barbara , I also have a wooden coffee token from the Original Sambo’s . The acts of the ignorant cost a lot of people their jobs. The true meaning of the name did not matter to the P.C.croud, it was a wonderful place to take your family for good food.

    Shirley Williams | Feb 23, 2014 | New Comment

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