Racist Restaurants


Here’s one of the more disheartening and rarely discussed moments in American cultural history: A restaurant chain called Coon Chicken Inn, alluded to in the films Ghost World and C.S.A., actually existed between the 1920s and the 1950s. Diners would enter through the doors of a ghastly racist caricature. It was one of Portland’s most popular restaurants, in part because there was a small African American population in Portland and in part because the food was cheap.

The restaurant chain was opened by Maxon Lester Graham and Graham’s descendants has issued a wholesale disapproval of the Coon Chicken Inn. This descendant reports that the racist logo was on every dish, piece of silverware, menu and paper product.

Interestingly, a few weeks ago, the Oregonian reported that the former Coon Chicken Inn has been purchased by an African American man named Ernest Clyde Jenkins III.

While Coon Chicken is now gone, it was by no means the only racist American restaurant. If you visit Santa Barbara, you can find the original Sambo’s restaurant, based on Helen Bannerman’s racist children’s book, The Story of Little Black Sambo. There were once as many as 1,200 outlets. Now there is one. Says restaurant critic John Dickson, “So when are you going to go nationwide AGAIN?” Presumably, Mr. Dickson is also fond of golliwoggs.


  1. This is actually re your show openers. In our home the theme song to the Muppet Show is sung regularly–albeit not so well as the muppets do it–but it has always signified having to face life….like, it’s a good song to sing on Monday mornings, or when work is especially stupid. Morale luncheons are an example of meeting the muppets.


  2. I used to go the Sambos in Santa Barbara quite often. The walls were always covered with crayon drawings of Sambo and his tiger. And they gave you unlimited miniature blueberry muffins.

    The Sambo character was a racist stereotype, characteristic of the time, but I question whether the book is simply “a racist children’s story.”

  3. great post.interesting.Today’s racist restaurants in Houston,TX are racist Hispanic restaurants like some taquerias and some puspuserias (in poor neighborhoods that are both black and Hispanic) that have words written all in Spanish and they don’t hire blacks and they give blacks bad service.

  4. In about 1968’s there was a Little Black Sambo’s diner (changed to Sambo’s) on the NE corner of west Burnside and 23rd. Great food.

  5. I think there may still be a Little Black Sambo’s diner in Lincoln City, OR. Probably the same ownership. I remember vividly the tiger, and then after graduating from college, thinking it was remarkable that such an establishment was still around today.

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