You would think that the word “aloha” (not unlike the word “hello”) belongs to everyone, especially to the people of Hawaii. But as local news site Block Club Chicago reports, the Midwest-based Aloha Poke chain sent out cease-and-desist letters to other businesses with “Aloha” in the title last year. But here’s the new wrinkle, according to Block Club Chicago: “Kalama O Ka Aina Niheu, an activist in Hawaii who fights for Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) families, spread the word about Aloha Poke’s legal threats on Facebook over the weekend.”
There are several layers to this story. First, the name Aloha Poke does exist elsewhere—a Singapore restaurant shares the same name. And it sounds like Aloha Poke wants to prevent other poke shops from using “Aloha” in its name, and not outright ban Hawaiian businesses from using it (as was suggested on social media). “There is zero truth to the assertion that we have attempted to tell Hawaiian-owned businesses and Hawaiian natives that they cannot use the word Aloha or the word Poke,” the restaurant wrote on its Facebook page today.
But as Eater Chicago reported, some of the tactics used against businesses doesn’t make Aloha Poke look too sympathetic. In one instance, an Anchorage poke restaurant formerly known as Aloha Poke Stop was pressured by Chicago’s Aloha Poke to rebrand, even though the Alaskan restaurant opened two years before the one in Chicago. One of the owners of the now-renamed Lei’s Poke Shop said they couldn’t afford the legal fees, so they went ahead and changed their name from Aloha Poke Stop. She said: “We had no choice but to comply which has caused much financial stress and hardships for the family.”
Aloha Poke’s founder, Zach Friedlander, stepped down from the company several months ago and was replaced with an executive who’d worked for the sandwich chain Potbelly. Friedlander previously told Eater: “The cease and desist letters weren’t intended to ruin anyone else’s business, but said it ‘really just comes down to business and protecting the Aloha Poke Co. entity.’”
As with any restaurant that makes the news for unsympathetic reasons, the first the business feels the brunt is in online reviews. Aloha Poke has been hit with a steady stream of one-star reviews on Yelp, to the point Yelp has stepped in and intervened.