Whole Foods opened a new Whole Foods 365 location in Long Beach, California, this week, and the company is facing intense criticism after it was revealed that the site includes a restaurant called Yellow Fever.
“Already ready for lunch? #YellowFeverEats has you covered with fresh, customized bowls at our brand-new #LongBeach365 location - now open!” the 365byWholeFoods Twitter account announced with a photo of the restaurant.
The response on social media was swift, and many people said they were appalled by the restaurant’s name.
Yellow fever is a deadly disease trasnmitted by mosquitos, and it's also a slang term for the sexual fetishization of Asian women.
“Super cool that no one in your company, from concept to construction to this tweet, saw nothing wrong with this,” another user wrote.
Yellow Fever is small California chain with two other locations, and this is their first location in a Whole Foods store. The restaurant specializes in bowls with a base of either rice, rice noodles, or field greens with a customizable menu of toppings and flavors.
In a 2017 interview with NextShark, executive chef and co-owner Kelly Kim said her restaurant’s food was inspired by the kind of food she liked to eat. Kim said she moved to the U.S. from South Korea when she was 9 years old, and her parents ran a barbecue restaurant in Houston, Texas. She said she decided to get into the restaurant business herself when she realized that nobody else seemed to be serving the kinds of mixed bowls she had been preparing for herself, and that she wanted to make a restaurant that wasn’t tied to a particular cuisine, but more like “the Asian version of Chipotle.”
Kim told NextShark the restaurant’s name was intended to be tongue-in-cheek and a bit shocking.
“When we finally came up with the concept, all the names we thought of just plain sucked. Buzzwords like ‘traditional’, ‘bamboo’, ‘lotus’, and ‘golden’ weren’t memorable,” she explained. “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 the New York Daily News that the issue of the restaurant's name did come up when partnering with Whole Foods, which also reportedly required the restaurant to change some of its ignredients. The name stayed, though.
"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,” Kim said in an email. “We have been a proud Asian, female-owned business since our founding over four and a half years ago in Torrance, California."
In spite of the controversy, Kim told CBS News that the Long Beach location is seeing a lot of business and outperforming her other two locations by 100 percent. This is not the first time Whole Foods has been embroiled in controversy, either, check out these 18 times Whole Foods got into big trouble.