A Hawaiian state lawmaker and House candidate this week slammed Midwestern company Aloha Poke Co. for trying to prevent other restaurants from using the word "aloha" in their names.
"I keep hearing today about this guy in the Midwest, not Hawaiian, who owns a chain of poke shops," Hawaiian state legislator Kaniela Ing (D) said in a video posted to Twitter on Sunday. "He’s suing other shops, or threatening lawsuit, for using the word 'aloha.' "
"Now, you know, it’s bad enough that that word has been used, commodified, over time, but this is the next level," Ing continued. "To think that you have legal ownership over one of the most profound Hawaiian values, it’s just something else."
Ing, who is running for Congress in Hawaii's 1st District, encouraged his followers to share the video and boycott the company.
A poke bowl shop owner in the Midwest thinks he owns the word “Aloha.” He’s even suing Native Hawaiians. Here’s my response:— Kaniela Ing (@KanielaIng) July 29, 2018
Please 'Share' + boycott. #NoAlohaPokeCo #FightForAloha pic.twitter.com/hYsclmSIkz
"Aloha" is a traditional Hawaiian greeting.
Aloha Poke Co., a Chicago-based chain of shops that sells the traditional Hawaiian dish poke, has been sending cease-and-desist letters to restaurants in Hawaii and across the country and threatening them with lawsuits if they do not remove the word "aloha" from their names, according to The Washington Post.
CEO Chris Birkinshaw apologized in a statement for "triggering" upset among Hawaiians, but blamed "misinformation."
“We know that this misinformation has caused a considerable amount of anger and offense among those who care very passionately about their Hawaiian culture. First, we want to say to them directly how deeply sorry we are that this issue has been so triggering,” Birkinshaw said, according to Block Club Chicago.
“Second, there is zero truth to the assertion that we have attempted to tell Hawaiian-owned businesses and Hawaiian natives that they cannot use the word Aloha or the word Poke. This simply has not happened, nor will it happen. We truly celebrate Hawaiian culture and what makes it so wonderful, which is very much the reason why we branded our business as we did.”
However, several letters have been making the rounds online. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser identified two businesses that received letters as Hawaiian-owned.
News of the letters has mobilized Hawaiian activists who say the company is co-opting and profiting from native Hawaiian culture.
"Frankly, the shops that are called 'Aloha Poke,' like in downtown [Hawaii] ... they should be suing you!" Ing said in the video. "But they probably won’t because that’s not aloha."
"All we ask is if you’re making so much money off our words, our values, our food, our culture, that you at least hear us," Ing added.
Hawaiian restauranteurs who have been threatened by Aloha Poke Co. have admonished the company for its disrespect of the food's origin.
Tasha Kahele, a native Hawaiian who had to change the name of her Anchorage, Alaska, poke shop from Aloha Poke Stop to Lei's Poke Stop after being threatened with a lawsuit, said she was "very offended."
"Culturally I was very offended to be told as a native Hawaiian that I couldn’t use my native language in my business,” she said in an interview with the Post. "It was very hurtful. And then to find out that the company wasn’t native Hawaiian."
For those who believed the @alohapokeco CEO. His actual cease and desist letter to a Native Hawaiian is embedded in this article. Yes, he's suing for the use of "Aloha" and "Aloha Poke" https://t.co/R9cDJ305Nv— Kaniela Ing (@KanielaIng) July 31, 2018
"I’m hungry so I’m gonna go eat some real poke," Ing says at the end of his Twitter video. "This is why we do what we do and we fight for 'aloha.' "