Thursday, May 06, 2010

When My Dad Rolled The Dice

A couple of weeks ago I was able to sit down with my dad and just spend some relaxed time together. This kind of opportunity doesn't come about too much and at almost 87 years old I know that these times together are "precious and few." So I asked him about things I have always been curious about. Since Sambo's Restaurants made such an impact upon my life as a young child and as an adult I zeroed in on that topic.

So I asked him, "How did you and Sam really do this? Tell me about how it happened. I have always heard your story in general terms. Can you tell me how this really happened? " Dad then proceeded to tell me a story that was quite fascinating.

He was 35 years old and selling restaurant equipment. He was just starting to make some money at this. It was strictly commission sales. He had just put away $5,000 in the local bank. For the first time since returning from the Korean War he had a little bit of cash in the bank.

One of his customers was a man named Sam Battistone, who owned Sammy's Grill and operated it with his wife Ione. Dad spent time getting to know Sam, stopping in from time to time. He watched the way he ran his little restaurant and admired how he and his wife Ione operated Sammy's Grill.

My mother was pregnant with their fourth child, my youngest sister, Vikki. Dad was feeling nervous that the family's income depended fully upon the sales commissions he earned. He thought to himself, "As long as I'm healthy we'll be okay but if I would become sick or unable to work with four kids now, we could be in financial trouble."

That same year, in 1957, Sam Battistone was talking with about 10 men whom he would go into business with on a new venture at a location that was now available on the beach in Santa Barbara. He invited dad to come to a meeting in Hope Ranch (a prestigious community in Santa Barbara) to discuss the investment opportunity. On the drive back Sam asked Dad what he thought about it. My dad's reply was, "I'm not interested in going into business with these guys, but Sam, if you ever want to do something together let me know."

About two months later Sam called back to ask dad if he was still interested as the Hope Ranch group had dropped out of the picture. "How much are we talking about?" dad asked. Sam replied "I think we can do this for about $10,000. We each can put in $5,000."

Coincidentally dad had his $5,000 he had just put into the bank. He immediately withdrew it in cash and handed it over to Sam. In a sense he bet his future with all he had in liquid cash on what he knew and believed about Sam's ability to make a restaurant succeed.

It was important for him to keep this secret for a period of time as he was still selling restaurant equipment and didn't want this to be seen as a conflict of interest. As Sam came to the bank with my dad's wad of cash the teller remarked that Newell Bohnett had just come in and withdrawn $5,000 of cash. Sam's response was quick on his feet, "Yeah, that Newell Bohnett is the worst poker player I've ever seen!"

That is how it began. The restaurant adopted the Sambo's story, which would create a fun atmosphere with the murals for children to look at while eating their pancakes. (They would change their logo and murals in 1964 from an African looking character to a light-skinned turban wearing Indian.) The restaurant name, before political correctness of the late 60's and 70's took hold in the U.S., seemed to be a perfect combination of the two men's names "Sam" Battistone and "Bo" Newell Bohnett.

The one little restaurant would twenty years later be a national chain of over 1,000 restaurants, traded on the NY stock exchange, with over 250,000 employees until it's eventual bankruptcy in 1984. Sam and my dad were able to retire in 1968, my father being only 45 years old.

A little became a lot. There is something that is fascinating about these kinds of stories. We love to hear about them. It gives hope to everyone of us who start with something small and believe it can become something big. Jesus taught that his kingdom would grow like this – big things would happen from small beginnings.

My dad had to know and trust Sam and then he had to be willing to risk his $5,000, "die" to other purposes he had for that money and then entrust it all into Sam's hands. Jesus said in John 12:24 that it is only the seed that falls to the ground and dies that will produce many seeds.

In another place Jesus said it like this: "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable should we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade." (Mark 4:30-32)

My dad was richly rewarded back in 1957 when he risked his $5,000, all of the cash he had at the time. Soon after that many others were positively impacted by this partnership he made with Sam, including yours truly! That is a picture of what happens when we trustingly and sacrificially risk "partnering" with Jesus (the analogy breaks down here a bit because He is far more than a business partner but He is our Lord and God!) We are blessed to become a blessing to others–the birds can perch on our branches!

If we are involved in doing what Jesus would have us to do day by day, little by little we can be assured that He will take what little we invest and see it multiplied. We don't need to be discouraged to think of the scope or progress as insignificant. If we are involved in growing His kingdom, even if it is leading our little family to love and serve Jesus or encouraging a friend to trust Him with a concern–a little WILL become a lot. You can bet on it!

"All In" With Jesus,


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Anonymous said...

This is a great story Jamie as I can remember eating @ SAMBO's in Calif. I also think this would be a great ice breaker to the men's breakfast you are speaking at Trilogy. These men are mostly retired and could relate to such a great achievement by you dad. I can see where you get your business mind from :~)

Anonymous said...

Jamie,you didn't finish the the story. How those old guys cheated and lied to all of us owner/managers and blamed it on the FTC. Then there was a blood bath and bankruptcy. I was a Owner/Managers at the time. I and over a thousand manager/owners and trainees were devastated. You think Jesus would have wished this?