I always wondered why people got so uptight about the name of Sambo’s restaurants. What was so offensive about that well dressed little kid in India outsmarting some tigers, and turning them into butter for his breakfast?? As my sister brought it up, i did some research:
Sambo’s is the name of a former American restaurant chain, started in 1957 by Sam Battistone (who later became the owner of the Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Association) and Newell Bohnett. Though the name was taken from portions of the names of its founders, the chain soon found itself associated with The Story of Little Black Sambo. Battistone and Bohnett then sought to capitalize on the coincidence by decorating the walls of the restaurants with scenes from the book, including a dark-skinned boy and tigers; once critics began voicing objections, the use of the boy’s image was eliminated but the tigers remained. By 1979, Sambo’s had 1,200 outlets in 47 U.S. states, but two years later the company went bankrupt, having changed the name of some of the outlets shortly before going out of business to "No Place Like Sam’s," apparently in response to complaints about the name "Sambo’s" from African-American organizations. Today, only the chain’s flagship restaurant in Santa Barbara, California still exists. In its last days of existence Sambo’s was sued by Dr. Pepper for allegedly plagiarizing the latter’s popular television commercial in a spot Sambo’s ran to promote its newly-established senior citizen discount program — and even more interestingly, was also sued by non-white employees and applicants who were alleging discrimination in hiring and advancement decisions. Battistone’s grandson, Chad Stevens, expressed a desire to revive the chain at various times in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The Story of Little Black Sambo (1898) by Helen Bannerman, was the story of a boy named Sambo who outwitted a group of hungry tigers. The setting of Bannerman’s story was clearly in India – as can be seen by the presence of tigers and the reference to ghee – and thus it is likely that the "Sambo" character began life as an Indian boy. Today the book has been renamed, The Story of Little Babaji, and the illustrations that reflected the character’s Indian origins in a non-marginalizing manner.