Sambo’s Lake Tahoe, 1967

Two women smiling in a 1967 diner

Beaming with joy, three customers bask in the glory of orange, yellow, blue and white vinyl, wood paneling, hanging lamps, slanted striped ceiling and plate glass. Even they are color coordinated. By any creative design standards the interior decor scheme is as playful and colorful as a space-age fantasy toy box.

The most detailed work in the modern day dining hall is the amazing above-the-counter art depicting the coffee shop’s namesake, the legendary story of Little Black Sambo published in 1899. Strange by any children’s book standards, the tale is that of a turban wearing Indian boy named Sambo who loses his clothes to some browbeating tigers. They wind up chasing each other around until the tigers melt into hotcakes and butter, which Sambo then eats

In 1957 two guys in Santa Barbara, “Sam” and “Bo” blended their abbreviated names and matched the title character in the book that inspired the boy-tiger-pancake theme for what was destined to become less than a decade later a coffee shop empire. “Famous” pancakes with lots of butter and syrup is the specialty of the kitchen. A decade later, in 1967, the original Sambos had spawned restaurants spanning nearly coast to coast with more than 1200 restaurants

Today just one Sambos restaurant survives — the original overlooking the picturesque bay in Santa Barbara

Cheers to Sambo’s and YOU!!

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4 Responses to “Sambo’s Lake Tahoe, 1967”

  1. Debra says:

    I moved to Lake Tahoe in 1974 when I was 18 and stopped at this Sambo’s Restaurant the first day I got to South Shore Lake Tahoe. I loved their Pancakes.I cried when they closed the restaurant. When I went to visit my cousin in Minden Nevada in 2005 we stopped at an Antique shop and they had one of the old Sambo’s signs from this Restaurant in Tahoe with little Sambo’s picture on it and it cost $300.00 I really wanted to buy it but decided I did not really need it. Thanks for the memories Mr Phoenix !

  2. Shirley Rhuems says:

    I loved the Sambo’s Restaurent in my town,of course it was the only one I was ever at. Would or could there ever be a chance that there will ever be any more Sambo’s? would love to have one in my town again. Pittsburg,Kansas.

  3. There was a Sambos in the 1970′s in North Olmsted, Ohio also.I wonder how big the chain actually was?

  4. Hollywood says:

    Yes, Sambo’s was very much a part of southern California in the 1970′s. I can still vividly recall the story panel images of the little indian boy turning a tiger into butter that were featured above the counter in every Sambo’s restaurant. Some of them can even be seen in this picture.

    After a serious accident in 1976, I awoke to find my parents crying by my hospital bedside, I looked out the large window of the recovery room, and my first words upon regaining conciousness were, “There’s Sambo’s.” And my parent’s eyes were filled with joy.

    The Sambo’s of my youth became a Continental Kitchen, then a Seasons, then a Coco’s, then a Baker’s Square, then a Denny’s, and today it is a Mimi’s. But when I think back, it will always be Sambo’s to me.

    A few years ago I had the chance to dine with friends at the last remaining Sambo’s, the one in Santa Barbara. It was everything I had remembered. Of course, I ordered breakfast, and I asked for extra butter.

    Here’s to Sambo’s and you…Mr. Phoenix!

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