Lincoln City Restaurant Lil’ Sambo’s Faces Pressure to Change Its Name

So far, 500 people have signed a petition calling for the 63-year-old restaurant to drop its name, which is derived from a 19th century children’s book featuring racist images.

Lil' Sambo's Family Restaurant

Lil' Sambo's, the 63-year-old Lincoln City restaurant, is facing mounting pressure to change its name, which is derived from a 19th century children's book featuring racist images.

Three weeks ago, Sandy resident Myriam Macleod launched a petition on calling for the diner—which sits along Highway 101 on the Oregon Coast—to rebrand. Street Roots first reported on the campaign.

"During this pivotal time of progression toward racial equality, we demand that said restaurant change its name," reads the online appeal, which is directed to Lincoln City's mayor and city council.  The petition has amassed nearly 500 signatures so far.

At the same time, Serena Dressel, a former Lincoln City resident and now a board member with Greater Portland Sustainability Education Network, is launching a hashtag campaign on Instagram pushing for the name change, and held a small demonstration in front of the restaurant Friday afternoon. The hashtags include #BoycottLilSambos, #Whitehavenstate, #ExposingOregon and #ASideofRacism.

Dressel says she felt compelled to act after watching activist Walidah Imarisha's Oregon Black History Timeline on YouTube.

"I actually did not start the petition myself," Dressel tells WW, "but instead was contemplating with my younger sister how we could most effectively advocate for the name change beyond a two-person protest, when I stumbled upon the petition."

The restaurant's website explains that the name, previously Lil' Black Sambo's, came from the children's book The Story of Little Black Sambo. Published in 1899, the story, written by Scottish-born author Helen Bannerman and set in India, features a boy with dark skin, tigers and a pancake feast.

The term "sambo" has been used as a slur toward Black people going back to the mid-18th century, and the illustrations in the book are filled with racist stereotypes.

The restaurant website says the Lincoln City location was never associated with the national Sambo's chain, of which there were more than 1,000 scattered throughout nearly every state. The last one, operating in Santa Barbara, Calif., finally dropped the name in June amid the Black Lives Matter protests following the killing of George Floyd.

The Lincoln City restaurant's most recent owners, George and Ruth Moore, inherited the name when they purchased it in 1995. They've run it as a family business ever since. George Moore died in March at age 93.

Tourists tend to flock there for the breakfast food, making the property's jorts-sporting tiger holding an umbrella in its tail something of a landmark.

The Moores' son, Cary, who is also general manager, says he understands why people want the name changed. But he says every time the subject comes up, other customers are equally adamant about keeping it.

"The restaurant is the oldest restaurant in Lincoln City, and so there's attachment to that," Moore says. "Every time this comes up, we seem to get a slew of people coming to the restaurant in support of the name. I'm not looking for that. I'm not looking to be in the middle of anything."

Moore says he assumes that at some point the name will change—but not now.

"We have no intention of offending anyone. We just want to serve breakfast. But I think there will be a day when this changes. This is not what we're thinking about today," says Moore. "It's a brand we inherited and a brand the locals have a lot of affection for. That's what's always been important to me—that this is important to the locals."

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.