Wisconsin coffee chain will change its name, apologizes to Native American tribes

Photo: NakoPhotography (iStock)

Restaurants have lately been accused of appropriation, usually by the marginalized groups whose name or likeness or cuisine they’ve coopted.

Exhibit A: Lucky Lee’s “clean” Chinese food in New York.

Exhibit B: Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s “authentic” Asian restaurant, Lucky Cat, in London.

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Exhibit C: Lou’s Bodega restaurant in Austin.

But the news of Wisconsin-based chain Kickapoo Coffee’s name change is different in a substantial way: The coffee roaster voluntarily opted to change its name before receiving complaints. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Kickapoo released a statement saying it will change its name in 2020, as its use of the term Kickapoo could be considered appropriation of the name of four indigenous peoples’ tribes. The roaster’s cofounders chose the name in 2005 because of the company’s location in the Kickapoo River Valley, but realized that customers outside of Wisconsin were confused because there are tribes in the U.S. and Mexico called Kickapoo.

“By using Kickapoo, we claimed a name that was never ours to take. The decision to use the name, and to continue to roast under it, was an act of appropriation,” the coffee roaster’s cofounder TJ Semanchin said in a statement.

The coffee company has contacted representatives from U.S. tribes—located in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas—to apologize, according to coffee website Sprudge. The groups were unaware of Kickapoo Coffee name, and the company’s cofounders say it wasn’t criticism from tribes that led them to their decision.

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“Holding onto the name was not consistent with our values,” Semanchin tells Sprudge. “Once we allowed ourselves to take the blinders off of some willful ignorance, it just seems like something we had to do.”

The company has not yet announced its new name, which will go into effect in early 2020.

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About the author

Kate Bernot

Kate Bernot is managing editor at The Takeout and a certified beer judge.