Whole Foods Sparks Controversy By Partnering With 'Yellow Fever' Restaurant

Korean-American founder Kelly Kim says the name is an attempt to reclaim the problematic term.

Whole Foods is facing backlash for featuring a California-based restaurant called “Yellow Fever” in its new Whole Foods Market 365 Long Beach location, which opened on Wednesday. 

Yellow Fever was founded by Korean-American chef Kelly Kim and serves Asian-style rice bowls. Critics took issue after news broke of the restaurant’s partnership with Whole Foods, highlighting that the restaurant’s name is a term that has a problematic history. Kim told both CBS Los Angeles and The New York Daily News that no one took offense to the name prior to working with the grocery chain.

“I think it’s been silly, and I think it’s a bit funny that it’s all of a sudden a big deal,” Kim told the Daily News. “There’s nothing offensive about our restaurants.”

The term “yellow fever” refers to a mosquito-borne illness that produces jaundice, or yellowing effect, in its patients. But yellow fever has also been used to describe the fetishization of Asian women by men.

Kim told HuffPost in a statement that Yellow Fever is a celebration of Asian food, culture and people.

“We have been a proud Asian, female-owned business since our founding over four and a half years ago in Torrance, California,” Kim told HuffPost in a statement.

Prior to the controversy, Kim said that the tongue-in-cheek name of her restaurant was an attempt to reclaim the racist term in an interview with Asian-American news site Next Shark.

“We are still scrappy and not a fully-known entity, so some people pass us thinking we sell bowls or…you know, ‘something else,’” Kim told Next Shark in 2017. “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.”

Whole Foods declined to comment in response to HuffPost’s request for comment. 

Critics still take issue with the defense, as some are saying the name isn’t “re-appropriating” anything and that they find it offensive. Others are pointing out it’s a term that they feel doesn’t need to be reclaimed at all.