SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - For the second time in 63 years, a landmark restaurant in Santa Barbara has changed its name and both happened within the last six weeks.
Sambo’s restaurant is now Chad's.
Jeff Clark with Imagine Graphics created the new oval letters that are similar to the original Sambo's retro font. The original sign base remains.
The sign was changed Tuesday night at 216 West Cabrillo Boulevard, where the restaurant opened in June, 1957 as the first of the Sambo's nationwide chain. The owners say the "Sambo's" name was a combination of owners names, Sam Battistone Sr. and Newell "Bo" Bohnett.
Current owner Chad Stevens is the grandson of Battistone.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Sambo's expanded across the country, but the chain failed for reasons including financial losses.
Stevens' first "Chad's" restaurant was open on Chapala Street for 16 years, closing in 2008. It was a popular dinner spot in an old Victorian residence with a go-to happy hour scene on Friday nights for local hipsters over a wide demographic.
Changing the Sambo's name on Cabrillo Boulevard occurred as the country and local community went through racial identity debates following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. During that time, local protest organizer Rashelle Monet requested Sambo's name be changed due to a racist history for the word.
The story of "Sambo" featured an Indian boy, in the book Little Black Sambo. The work has been interpreted by many as offensive to Blacks. Even though the restaurant's name was not derived from the book, characters from it were used in promotional materials across the chain in prior decades.
"I've always respected all cultures, races, anybody, but I knew it was time to change," said Stevens.
With the change, "we are still going to be a family restaurant. I want a place where kids can go, come and eat in a family dining experience." Stevens said he would not convert it into his past restaurant, but just expand the menu beyond the "pancake house" offerings the previous restaurant had.
A few weeks ago, Stevens agreed to a temporary name change with the peace symbol followed by "& LOVE" replacing the original letters. That change received a mostly warm reception, but some opponents had fond memories of the restaurant and did not agree with the decision.
Monet, who works at a financial company locally, has since dined at the restaurant. When she met with Stevens they hugged and had a peaceful interaction.
She says she is happy there has been a common ground on the issue and said Stevens was a leader to make the change. Monet said it also shows Santa Barbara is a community where these solutions can occur with discussions, education and understanding.
Monet said, "it shows we can work together to induce positive change and despite your different backgrounds and different cultures that we can all come together live together harmoniously."
At one point Monet was going to help raise money for the transition costs but Stevens suggested any type of money that came together go towards other positive efforts Monet is involved in.
Stevens said for years he wanted to call the site Chad's at the beach, or Chad's Cafe but kept the Sambo's name for family reasons. Pictures of the original founders, his family members and the old days at the restaurant remain on the walls including one in front of Santa Barbara City Hall where an honor was handed out.
Moving forward, the website will be Chadscafe.com.
The menu will resemble the one now but there will be additions including a broader range of family food items.
Inside pictures of the Sambo's story will be replaced by vintage pictures of Cabrillo Boulevard. The location attracts both locals and visitors with waterfront views between Stearns Wharf and the harbor.
Chad's has expanded existing outside dining from the sidewalk into the street with a new parklet which includes new furniture and floral decorations.
Clark helped with both new signs the building has seen lately. He said, "Chad was on board with what is happening and he was willing to change his family's restaurant name that had existed for so many decades and saw a call and answered it."
This morning, "somebody was driving by and yelled out 'go Chad's' so ya know there is a lot of good feeling about this," said Stevens. "And I hope people can understand that."