Remembering Sambo’sby Tyler Woods on Jan. 23, 2011, under Life
I was talking to some friends the other day and we were chatting like we always do I am not quite sure how we got on the topic but someone we started talking about the old restaurant Sambo’s and this got me thinking…
I remembered Sambo’s as if it were just yesterday that I was eating their silver dollar hotcakes and watching other drinking their advertised “bottomless ten cent cup of cofee.” I have gone to Sambo’s since I can remember. It was this great Village Inn Denny’s Style family restaurant that served up great grub since 1957.
Now of course I was born in 1958 but I have no doubt my parents took me there as an infant because they liked eating there so much. I have very early memories of Sambo’s and they had this great little paper book, I think you could color in it, but I just can’t recall.
The story was great. It was about a little boy and tigers that chased him and they turned to butter so Sambo took that butter home and his mom made him pancakes—just like the ones at Sambo’s. Big fat flakey ones that fell off your plate or cool silver dollar sized that you could gulp down in one bite. Either way, they were good!
The Sambo’s story was simple and written by Helen Bannerman. It sold over 1,000,000 copies before it was pulled off the shelves in 1988 after being accused of depicting racist characters. The term “Sambo” became a racial slur. The magic of the little boy and the tigers that turned to butter to make great hotcakes were over. There was no more magic.
In fact, lawsuits led to the closing of a chain of over 1,000 Sambo’s and tons of employees and some of the best whipped butter you could imagine were gone. After all that butter was the tigers. Here is what was sad. Sambo was never “Black” like Africans; he was an Indian from India. Good grief he even had a turban on his head.
Alas like so many things in our country, people remove the magic and only see things in black and white and rarely ever see the color. You see magic is filled with color. This was a fable turned into a family restaurant and that is what I recall; the fun, the kind people, workmen coming in and filling their thermoses with Sambo’s favorite coffee for a dime, the cool coasters on the table. It was pure magic I tell ya.
Well no doubt down the road we will lose McDonalds playgrounds, someone will find something politically wrong with it, and anything else magical will be gone because we have replaced magic with mayhem.
On a lighter note, an illustrator named Fred Marcellino understood that the story itself was not at all racist and simply a great story and produced a re-illustrated version and called it Little Babaji so no one would freak out.
Long gone are the days where a simple little story about a boy from India watching tigers turns to butter. Long gone are the days of simple magic that we adored as children and clearly, long gone are the days where we could go in and read the fun story while dripping syrup from our mouth as we read the activity book they gave us on the table. What I do have is the magical memories, and no one can take that!