Tokyo Joe’s is a Colorado-based chain that serves rice bowls, spring rolls, and sushi. It’s blandly inoffensive in the way that all fast-casual restaurants are, except that it was dragged into a public fracas this week over a sign posted on one location’s bathroom door.
The scandal erupted this week when a Colorado state representative, Jonathan Singer, took offense to a Denver location’s sign that read “restrooms are for Tokyo Joe’s addicts only.” The restaurant’s loyalty club is called the Addict Club, and membership earns diners innocuous perks like a free entree on your half birthday, and one point for every dollar spent. Singer tweeted a photo of the sign, adding that “addiction is no laughing matter.”
Referring to “a bill to help stop overdose deaths in bathrooms,” Singer is perhaps referencing SB 40, a bill that would have created supervised injection sites for Denver’s intravenous drug users. A Republican-led panel defeated that bill in January—which makes me question whether Singer, a Democrat from Longmont, is using this Tokyo Joe’s sign to make a political point.
It goes without saying that the opioid crisis and intravenous drug use are grave and disturbing issues, but Tokyo Joe’s clearly meant “addicts” in the sense of “fans.” (Dear readers, I would like to take this opportunity to disclose that I am addicted to Chex Mix.) Addicts is a word they’ve already used in their corporate branding, and wasn’t specifically referring to a bathroom as a place for drug use. If the chain had decorated the sign with needles and spoons, we could definitely get up in arms.
Sure, “addicts” isn’t the phrase that we’d choose for our fan club, but it’s a stretch to say that mocks the struggles of drug users and their families. Nonetheless, Tokyo Joe’s subsequently fell over itself to apologize; The Denver Post reports the restaurant’s corporate Twitter account said, in part: “We apologize for letting our fans down. We will be addressing this internally first thing (Thursday) a.m. We can and will do better.” It seems like both parties—Singer and Tokyo Joe’s—overreacted here.
The uproar, thankfully, is on the wane. Singer and Tokyo Joe’s have resolved the non-scandal, with Singer yesterday tweeting the photo of himself enjoying a bowl at Tokyo Joe’s with the caption: “Just noodling over how to address our Opioid Crisis. I’m bowled over by @tokyojoes quick response.”