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Ahola Poke Co.’s crunch bowl. Photo courtesy of Zeppelin Station

Aloha Poke Co. Accused Of Cultural Appropriation

The Chicago-based chain—which has an outlet in Zeppelin Station—draws ire after sending cease-and-desist letters to businesses using “Aloha” and “Poke” in their names.

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Chicago-based Aloha Poke Co. is in big trouble. According to a Block Club Chicago story (among others), it all began last fall when lawyers for the rapidly expanding chain began sending cease-and-desist letters to businesses with the words “Aloha” and “Poke” in their names. (Aloha Poke Co. holds two federal trademarks for the words “Aloha Poke,” for use in connection with “restaurants, catering, and take out services,” according to a statement it released on its Facebook page.)

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Over the past 48 hours, a significant amount of misinformation about Aloha Poke Co. has been shared on social media. We…

Posted by Aloha Poke co. on Monday, July 30, 2018

Over the weekend, this now-viral video ignited a social media maelstrom. According to the Chicago Tribune, the native Hawaiian woman in the video, Kalamaoka’aina Niheu, is the Hawaii representative for the Pacific Caucus at the United Nations; in her video, she condemns Aloha Poke Co. of appropriating Hawaiian culture and cuisine.

Backlash to Aloha Poke Co.’s actions, and response to this controversy, has been swift and widespread: The Denver location of Aloha Poke Co., located inside Zeppelin Station, is flooded with one-star Yelp reviews. Niheu has created a change.org petition calling for “Aloha Poke Company LLC to ‘cease and desist’ from the use of the words ‘Aloha’, ‘Aloha Poke’ and ‘Poke’ from all current and future businesses.” A Hawaii state representative has called for a boycott of the company. And Aloha Poke Co.’s Facebook page is littered with negative comments.

While the company’s statement includes an apology for the fact that “this issue has been so triggering,” it aims to “set straight… the false assertion that Aloha Poke Co. has attempted to own either the word ‘Aloha’ or the word ‘Poke.’ Neither is true and we would never attempt to do so.” The statement goes on to assure readers that “not a single business has closed as a result of this.” Other outlets, however, have reported that businesses in both Alaska and Washington have already gone through the trouble (and significant expense) of rebranding to eliminate the words “Aloha” and “Poke” from their names to avoid legal action from Aloha Poke Co.

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Representatives from Zeppelin Station have declined to comment on the matter. 5280 will update this story as it develops.

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