The owners of a restaurant called “Yellow Fever” is experiencing backlash for the first time since they opened their flagship location in 2013, reported the Chicago Tribune. The culprit? The name of their restaurant.
Owners Kelly Kim and her husband said they were looking to find a name that stood out, something that was atypical of the usual pan-Asian restaurant names that use terms like dragon, lotus, or bamboo. For them, the answer was “Yellow Fever.”
On Wednesday, the restaurant opened a third location inside of a Whole Foods 365 store in Long Beach, California. What should have been a momentous occasion quickly turned controversial. Social media users balked at the name, calling it racist.
Even though yellow fever is a real disease carried by mosquitoes, it’s also a slang term for white men who are fascinated by Asian women. Usually, “yellow fever” has a sexual connotation.
Kim, however, disagrees with the interpretation of “yellow fever” solely being based on sexual fascination with Asian women. She says that it can also be “an attraction or affinity of Asian people or Asian things.”
“I never took [the name] to a have deeper meaning…. It’s a little tongue in cheek, but I never saw it as offensive or racist or anti-feminist.”
Plus, Kim said that she brought up the “charged nature” of the restaurant name during initial talks with Whole Foods, but couldn’t remember if anyone from Whole Foods had an issue or comment about it. Plus, Kim already knew that the restaurant name could be controversial. She recalled an incident with a friend.
“Once, I had a friend who was grabbing our food for lunch and her white friend wasn’t sure if he was allowed to eat here.”
Regardless of all of the negative comments that are flying around on social media, Kim said that, in person, the story is much different. There have been no protests, and the restaurant has been receiving positive reviews for the food.
Kim also claimed that negative comments and messages she has received have been from non-Asians. It’s unclear how Kim could have arrived at this assessment when so much of the backlash has happened online.
For some on social media, the issue isn’t just with the potential racist or sexist overtones, noted People. For them, a restaurant that’s named after a disease turns them off from wanting to try their food.
Whole Foods has yet to comment on the incident. Some believe that the store caters to an affluent white demographic and that integrating Yellow Fever Restaurant into their brand legitimizes the use of a potentially racist and sexist term.