The Real Reasons Sambo’s Restaurants Closed Down
Back in the 1970s we used to go to Sambo's Restaurant all the time. Especially late at night when the bars closed. That's when we'd head over to Sambo's – every weekend at 2am – for steak and eggs. That's what I would hear every Friday/Saturday night from my circle of friends: “steak & eggs, steak & eggs, steak & eggs...”
In almost every section of Michigan, you would be able to find a Sambo's. The first Sambo's opened in 1957 and by 1969, there were almost 100 locations nationwide. Before the local Denny's, Sambo's filled our late-night needs...but there were problems arising, unknown to us.
The late 70s brought protests regarding the name. It was being connected to an 1899 children's book by Helen Bannerman titled, The Story of Little Black Sambo, about a little boy from India...but throughout the years, the race of the boy was changed by different publishers.
According to Click Americana, Even though Sambo's was named after the two men who founded it – Sam Battistone and Newell Bohnett – by the 70s that was a moot point. Following many complaints and even lawsuits, a handful of their locations were re-named “The Jolly Tiger” thanks to local resolutions forbidding the 'Sambo's' name.
This wasn't the only reason Sambo's went under...bad corporate decisions was another. They implemented a “Fraction of the Action” plan where managers would reap 20% of the profits, and employees could bid for part of whatever profits were left over. It was not to be as lucrative as hoped.
SAMBO'S TIMELINE, 1980s-2020:
March 1981: Some locations were re-named "No Place Like Sam's".
November 1981: bankruptcy.
1982: All Sambo's were closed except the original California location.
February 1983: 618 locations renamed “Season's Friendly Eating”.
2020: Following the death of George Floyd, the last Sambo's in Santa Barbara agreed to change their name to “Chad's”, thus closing the book on all Sambo's restaurants.
Over the years, many restaurant customers noticed the similarities between Sambo's and Denny's...the signs were similar, but also some locations. Sambo's did indeed sell several of their locations to Denny's.
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