Popular Santa Barbara restaurant changes controversial name amid protests

Owner Chad Stevens agreed with the activist who set up a GoFundMe page to support the restaurant's rebranding.
/ Source: TODAY

Formerly a chain of restaurants including 1,117 outposts, the last standing Sambo's in Santa Barbara, California, has decided to change its name in the wake of protests following the killing of George Floyd.

Known for its pancakes, the restaurant ⁠— which has been around since 1957 ⁠— was named for its owners Sam Battistone Sr. and Newell Bohnett. The name Sambo's was a combination of owner nicknames "Sam" and "Bo." But "Sambo" is known as a pejorative toward black Americans and this haunted the restaurant on and off for years.

Rashelle Monet took up the cause of changing the name, explaining that while she understands there were no racial intentions behind the restaurant's name, it can still be viewed as a racist slur. On Friday, she posted a picture on Instagram of the Sambo's sign being changed to a sign that shows a peace symbol, an ampersand and the word love.

"History was made today!" she posted alongside a picture in which she is changing the "S" in Sambo's to a peace sign. The Instagram account for the restaurant also made an announcement about the name change on Friday.

"We are changing the name of our restaurant, what the future name will be is still uncertain, however it will not be Sambo’s," the restaurant explained. "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 as best we can."

Owner Chad Stevens, grandson of founder Sam Battistone Sr., told TODAY Food that changing the name was a family decision. "These are challenging times so we had to step up to the plate," he said.

Stevens said that the name had always been an issue, but said it was "never as heated an issue as it is today."

"There was never a negative connotation," he said. "I respect people of all races and genders."

Still, he thought it was time to do something to try and make the world a little more positive during such a difficult time. Some customers supported the change, while others were vehement about keeping the moniker, which has been around for nearly 65 years.

Stevens explained, "One customer said, 'I'll give you money if you keep the name.' I said, thank you for the offer but no thank you." He also refused the money Monet had raised via a since-shuttered GoFundMe campaign to pay for his rebranding. He said she should put the money to another cause.

And while he can't completely rebrand the restaurant overnight, he is taking steps toward change.

"We have had this brand for 65 years. I'm covering up as much of it as I can to show respect for Black Lives Matter and the challenges of the African American community," he said.

While the name may change to something else in the future, right now he will stick with the new sign, explaining, "That's something that can bring our country together right now ⁠— peace and love."