A white New York City restaurant owner is addressing backlash for marketing her Chinese food as “clean,” and saying other Chinese food makes people feel “bloated and icky.”
The comments, shared in an Instagram post that has since been deleted, placed Lucky Lee’s restaurant in the middle of a debate about racism, stereotypes and cultural appropriation.
Lucky Lee’s opened this week in Union Square, offering menu items including gluten-free baked orange cauliflower and baked General Tso’s Chicken. The spot caters to people with dietary restrictions.
As of Friday, its Facebook page is no longer live and its Instagram is responding to previous posts that ignited the flurry of recent criticism.
Owner and Manhattan nutritionist Arielle Haspel posted a few weeks ago that the restaurant’s lo mein won’t make people feel bad because it isn’t “too oily” or salty like other Chinese food out there.
Food writer MacKenzie Fegan was among many calling out Lucky Lee’s marketing as uninformed, saying Haspel labeled “the entire cuisine of a sprawling, diverse country as ‘unhealthy’ and suggesting that the half-million people of Chinese descent living in New York have all been waddling around, bloated and puffy-eyed, waiting for a white wellness savior.”
Yelp suspended reviews for Lucky Lee’s due to “unusual activity,” saying Yelp’s Support team is monitoring it.
The restaurant responded to the backlash, promising to listen to “cultural sensitivities related to our Lucky Lee’s concept.” It also said it will continue to market its food as “high quality,” made to “make you feel great.”
As for the name of the restaurant, it’s reflective of Haspel’s husband’s name. Defending the restaurant’s Chinese decor, Lucky Lee’s said “Owners Arielle and Lee are both Jewish-American New Yorkers, born and raised … New York is the ultimate melting pot and Lucky Lee’s is another example of two cultures coming together. To us, this is a good thing.”
The restaurant has continued to open for lunch amid the controversy and says it will continue to serve food that is gluten-free, dairy-free and wheat-free.
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