Whole Foods is facing anti-Asian claims for partnering with a California restaurant named “Yellow Fever” — but the Korean-American founder says there shouldn’t be any ill-will toward her eatery.
“I think it’s been silly, and I think it’s a bit funny that it’s all of a sudden a big deal,” co-founder Kelly Kim told the Daily News.
“There’s nothing offensive about our restaurants,” she said.
Whole Foods came under fire when it tweeted this week that a new branch of Yellow Fever would be located inside its 365 outpost in Long Beach, Calif.
Many people on social media were furious that Whole Foods would use a tone-deaf name for an eatery, and many believed it was a subsidiary of the Amazon-owned grocery chain.
“This is not a joke. Nobody @WholeFoods or @amazon noticed the problem with calling an Asian restaurant ‘Yellow Fever,’ ” tweeted @texasinafrica on Friday night. “This was okayed all the way up the chain & actually got built.”
Others noted that — along with being slang for white men who prefer Asian women — “Yellow Fever” refers to a tropical disease spread by mosquitoes.
Whole Foods didn’t return a request for comment Friday night.
Kim told The News that she didn’t see the social media backlash until Friday, but suggested that it was created by people who “want to stir the pot a little bit.”
Customers loyal to the chain were turning up to the Long Beach location since it opened Wednesday, regardless of the social media outcry.
“The first day, it exceeded all expectations,” she told the News. “We’ve been welcome with open arms.”
There was never an issue when the South Korea native, who grew up in Houston, opened her first location in Torrance, Calif., more than four years ago, or when its Venice location debuted nearly two years ago.
Kim’s restaurants serve fresh bowls of various Asian cuisine. She has said that she wanted a restaurant name that could re-spin a stereotype into something positive.
“We were worried about a strike at first,” she told the website Next Shark last fall. “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.
“But it’s re-appropriating a term — taking ownership of something and defining it in our own way,” she continued.
Still, she said, the name issue came up when partnering with Whole Foods, which also required the restaurant to tweak some of its ingredients.
“I feel pretty comfortable in that they knew what we were all about,” she told The News. “To us, ‘Yellow Fever’ means we love all things Asian meaning food, culture, people. I don’t want to spend any time thinking about or refuting any negativity.”