Whole Foods was bombarded by negative comments on social media in recent days, following news that a pan-Asian restaurant known as Yellow Fever opened in a new Whole Foods 365 store in Long Beach, California.
As explained in a report from People, the controversy started on Wednesday, when Whole Foods announced the opening of a Yellow Fever restaurant at its Long Beach 365 store. People noted that the restaurant is independently owned and had teamed up with Whole Foods for the opening of its latest branch.
In a statement issued to People, Yellow Fever described itself as a “proud Asian, female-owned business” that had first opened shop over four years ago in Torrance, California, and a “celebration” of Asian food and culture. The restaurant serves Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Hawaiian food, and was co-founded by Kelly Kim, an executive chef who was born in South Korea and moved to the United States when she was 9-years-old.
Speaking to NextShark in 2017, Kim explained why she chose “Yellow Fever” as the name of her restaurant, stressing that she went with the name because the usual “buzzwords” associated with Asian culture didn’t strike her as being memorable.
“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.”
Although the NextShark interview didn’t generate a lot of feedback when it was first published in October, Whole Foods’ tweet of the newest Yellow Fever location earned both companies a slew of negative remarks on social media, criticizing the former company for allowing the latter to open shop at the Long Beach 365 store, and the latter for the perceived racial insensitivity behind its name.
In an interview with CBS2 News, Long Beach woman Bryn Inks said that she found the restaurant’s name “offensive,” as it could be a “sexual connotation toward Asians.” Similarly, one Twitter user reportedly posted that Whole Foods has a “racist Asian fetish,” and another described Yellow Fever as the latest example of “bad product ideas.” People also quoted a few other Twitter users who also expressed their disgust at both Whole Foods and Yellow Fever.
“Gosh. Nothing like a racist meal that might *also* give you a horrific disease.”
The Daily Meal explained the context behind many of the negative comments, writing that “yellow fever” officially refers to a tropical disease spread by mosquitos, but is also a slang term for the “sexual fetishization of Asian women.”
Following the backlash, Kim offered her comments on the criticism, telling CBS2 News that there has been very little negativity in Yellow Fever’s four-and-a-half years in business. She also appealed to consumers and critics to focus on what her restaurant is selling, asking them to try the food, appreciate the company’s vision, and stop “picking on the little kid.” She added that since it opened up at the Long Beach Whole Foods 365 location, the new Yellow Fever outlet has been doing twice as well as the two older branches.