Despite the restaurant’s popularity, Sambo’s had one very large liability: its name. Though the name was arrived at accidentally, it happened to also be the name of a black character in a deeply problematic children’s book called Little Black Sambo. The fact that the restaurant’s theme and decor took inspiration from the book, where the titular character encounters a tiger, made matters even worse.
By the 1980s many felt the name could not be overlooked any further, and anti-discrimination protests ensued at Sambo’s locations. As a result, many locations changed their names to things like Sam’s and Jolly Tiger, while others were converted into Denny’s. Today, only one Sambo’s location remains in Santa Barbara, California.