LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Amazon.com’s Whole Foods Market sparked social media outrage after its newest store in its 365 grocery chain partnered with an Asian restaurant with the racially charged name of Yellow Fever.
The independently owned and operated eatery – whose name is taken from the slang term for a white man’s sexual attraction to Asian women – is located in the 365 store that opened in Long Beach, California, on Wednesday.
“An Asian ‘bowl’ resto called YELLOW FEVER in the middle of whitest Whole Foods — is this taking back of a racist image or colonized mind?” Columbia University professor and author Marie Myung-Ok Lee, wrote on Twitter.
Whole Foods, which has eight stores in its 365 chain that was launched with a no-frills concept to win over millennials, declined comment.
“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,” said Kelly Kim, executive chef and co-founder of Yellow Fever, which also operates two Los Angeles-area restaurants.
“We have been a proud Asian, female-owned business since our founding over four and a half years ago in Torrance, California.”
Kim, who is Korean-American, in previous interviews said she was aware that the name choice would be attention-getting and controversial.
“One night, we just said ‘Yellow Fever!’ and it worked. It’s tongue-in-cheek, kind of shocking, and it’s not exclusive — you can fit all Asian cultures under one roof with a name like this. We just decided to go for it,” Kim told Asian American news site NextShark six months ago.
A year ago she told the Argonaut, a local Los Angeles news outlet, that Yellow Fever means “love of all things Asian” and that public push back over the name had not been as drastic as expected.
Some people on social media defended the news of the partnership with Whole Foods as part of a broader cultural trend.
“This is no more offensive than @abc naming an Asian sitcom Fresh of the Boat or FOB- which is considered racists [sic],” wrote Lorin Hart, who uses the Twitter handle @CubeProMH.
Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Marguerita Choy