A Whole Foods Market in Long Beach, California has recently added a new restaurant under its roof. The Asian-themed eatery has a name that many people are up in arms about: “Yellow Fever.” It either brings to mind a mosquito-carrying plague or a sexual fetish for Asian women, which makes you wonder what the marketing heads were thinking when they added that prominent sign under the Whole Foods name.
The New York Times points out that the restaurant’s executive chef and co-founder, Kelly Kim, is an Asian women who “was drawn to the name because it was memorable and that she and her husband and co-founder, Michael, were trying to reappropriate it to mean something less pejorative.” According to the restaurant’s media kit, the couple chose “to embrace the term and reinterpret it positively for ourselves.” Adding to a few previous locations in strip malls, the Yellow Fever franchise now has a new home at the Long Beach Whole Foods.
While the Kims are certainly entitled to name their restaurant whatever they wish, it seems like an unfortunate choice at a time when racial tensions and boundaries are already heightened. But as a recent Takeout story pointed out, food names like the “Hot Dago” sandwich aren’t necessarily deterring customers. Kelly Kim said in a statement last week, “Yellow Fever celebrates all things Asian: the food, the culture and the people, and our menu reflects that featuring cuisine from Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand and Hawaii.” To that end, the restaurant’s signature drink is the “Bruce Lee”: green tea with lemonade.
As comedian Jenny Yang told The New York Times, “When a restaurateur chooses to use a joke at the expense of Asian-Americans, I would hope they would consider the consequences on how they represent us—especially if they’re going to have a larger platform partnering with Whole Foods.” Honestly, just the fact that the restaurant is named after an actual plague would probably be enough for us to want to steer clear. But there’s a lot more on both sides of this issue over at at the Times.