The black community has long viewed the Sambo’s Restaurant sign as an icon of racism on Cabrillo Boulevard.
Restaurant staff confirmed Thursday that the restaurant is rebranding.
At its height, more than 1,000 Sambo’s restaurants served up breakfast and 10-cent cups of coffee from the 1950s through the 1970s.
Founders Newell Bohnett and Sam Battistone Sr.’s original restaurant at 216 W. Cabrillo Blvd. has been the controversial chain’s only survivor since the 1980s.
During Sunday’s Black Lives Matter protest at the Courthouse Sunken Garden, Akila Ruskamp said that the restaurant’s name is a “slur” and an example of racist undertones in Santa Barbara.
“I don’t need y’all to yell Black Lives Matter as you continue to enjoy brunch at Sambo’s,” Ms. Ruskamp said.
A Sambo’s spokesman said staff will cover up the sign today as the restaurant works to rebrand.
“We’ll be changing our name. I’m not sure to what yet, but we have plans to have the sign covered hopefully by end of day (today). We’re going to do what we can to make this a peaceful transition,” he said.
On Monday, Rashelle Monet started a change.org petition to urge Mr. Battistone Sr.’s grandson, Chad Stevens to rebrand his restaurant. The petition raised 2,684 signatures in three days.
On Thursday, Ms. Monet started a GoFundMe campaign to help Mr. Stevens change the name. The campaign raised $1,855 in four hours.
“The owner of Sambo’s Restaurant no longer wants to use the name ‘Sambos’ for the name of his restaurant due to the negative implications towards the brown & black communities!” Ms. Monet wrote in a message on the crowdfunding campaign.
“Unfortunately, the pandemic has already hit the restaurant hard! Rebranding the restaurant will cost around $15,000, and he has $20,000 of branded inventory. Please help us raise the $35,000 it will take to create a more inclusive space without a negative financial impact on the business!” Ms. Monet wrote.
According to a Ferris State article on “The Coon Caricature,” in the 1900s the term sambo was a slur used to describe “older, docile blacks who accepted Jim Crow laws and etiquette.”
The 1899 book “The Story of Little Black Sambo” inspired the iconography of the Sambo’s restaurant chain through the 1970s, though the founders claimed the name itself was a mashup of their names Sam and Bohnett.
In a 2014 interview with The Daily Beast, Mr. Stevens said that he chose not to change the name of the restaurant for branding purposes when he took ownership.
“We do get the occasional complaint. They want us to know the controversy of the name. And yet for every complaint, there are about 1,000 people who say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it’s still here’—or ‘Open another one in our town,’ ’” Mr. Stevens said during the interview.
On Thursday afternoon Mr. Stevens released a statement through his spokesman John Davies.
“This name for a small pancake and coffee shop began quite innocently and is now part of our family history, which we have held onto, confident that there was no racist intent,” Mr. Stevens said.
“At this point, our family has looked into our hearts and realize that we must be sensitive when others whom we respect make a strong appeal. So today we stand in solidarity with those seeking change and doing our part.
Mr. Davies said there is still some “historic memorabilia,” in the restaurant and Mr. Stevens is considering what to do with the memorabilia.