Lucky Lee’s — a Chinese restaurant opened by a white woman that soon was slapped with “cultural appropriation” complaints — has closed its doors for good, NBC News reported.
What’s the background?
The New York City eatery saw quick trouble after being marketed as a “clean” alternative to traditional American Chinese restaurants.
“We heard you’re obsessed with lo mein but rarely eat it,” a deleted Instagram post from the restaurant read. “You said it makes you feel bloated and icky the next day? Well, wait until you slurp up our HIGH lo mein. Not too oily. Or salty.”
The restaurant’s moniker was seen as drawing from stereotypes of Chinese culture, although “Lee” is the name of owner Arielle Haspel’s husband.
Out come the knives
NBC News said “many in the Asian American community” criticized the restaurant on its social media accounts and Yelp page — and Haspel’s Instagram page was hit with negative comments as well.
“Do you even know that your intention is to ‘white wash’ another culture’s cuisine?” Instagram user “hoi_bing_mo” wrote. “Have you heard of the term ‘cultural appropriation’? I bet you have not. Just Google it. We don’t eat sesame chicken. I didn’t know what that was until I came to North America. We don’t deep fry everything. Also, if chopsticks give you nightmares, you really should stick to your fork. Your intention is insulting and grotesque PERIOD.”
A user identifying as non-Asian argued that “your ‘wellness’ ‘influencer’ language here, defending your actions, is insane. I’m white, and I hate this s**t.”
“Privilege at its best,” another user wrote. “Cultural appropriation at its finest.”
Food blogger Mackenzie Fagan — who is Asian-American — told WPIX-TV that the language used to describe Lucky Lee’s is “culturally insensitive to people who eat Chinese food every day.”
Image source: YouTube screenshot
In response Haspel told Eater NY, “I love love love American Chinese food. I made some tweaks so I would be able to eat it and my friends and other people would be able to eat it. I am by all means never ever looking to put down a culture at all. I am very inclusive, and we’re here to celebrate the culture.”
‘With a heavy heart’
Finally, Lucky Lee’s announced on its website Friday that it’s closing up shop.
“It is with a heavy heart that we are shutting down our woks and ovens tonight,” the statement read. “We have truly loved feeding and entertaining you and your families. We are very proud of our food and the space we created, but a lot needs to come together to make a restaurant work in New York City, and we wish it could have succeeded as we hoped.”
NBC News said Lucky Lee’s didn’t return its request for comment.
Here’s a report on the restaurant that aired just as the controversy was heating up in April:
NYC restaurant under fire for offering “clean” Chinese food