Amidst Controversy, Chicago-Based Seafood Bowl Chain Aloha Poke Shutters In San Diego After Only 2 Months In Business

September 4, 2018

This summer wasn't the best for Chicago-based Aloha Poke. The chain of seafood bowl restaurants was targeted and accused of cultural appropriation after it was revealed that they were threatening other eateries with legal action for using any derivation of the words "aloha" with "poke", based on a trademark the company owns. Well the backlash may have been too much to handle, as Aloha Poke Co. has closed its sole San Diego outpost after only two months in business.

Founded in Chicago in February 2016 by Zach Friedlander, Aloha Poke Co. has at least a dozen locations in development around the mid-west with previously announced expansion plans that included branches throughout the country. On June 27, Aloha Poke grand opened its first San Diego outpost within a new building at 4462 Mission Boulevard in Pacific Beach. In late July, it was exposed that Aloha Poke was sending cease-and-desist letters asking businesses with similar names to find new ones, including longtime Hawaiian poke eateries. The negative attention resulted in numerous viral posts accusing Aloha Poke of predatory business practices and culturally appropriating Hawaiian words and tradtitions, culminating with a New York Times article detailing the controversy.

The closure of the San Diego location comes as quite a surprise, as Aloha Poke previously teased the opening of several more outposts for America's Finest City. There is no word on whether more locations will be closed or if the company will roll back its expansion goals. We reached out to Aloha Poke representatives for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publishing. Check out Aloha Poke Co.'s July 30th statement below:

Over the past 48 hours, a significant amount of misinformation about Aloha Poke Co. has been shared on social media. 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. It is our sincere hope that this statement can set the record straight and address valid concerns raised by many individuals around issues that are very personal to them.

Perhaps the most important issue that needs to be set straight is 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. Not ever. We will explain more about this below.

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.

Third, it is entirely false that we have either sued businesses for using the word Aloha or the word Poke or sought a “gag order“ on anyone for using the words. We honestly do not know how either claim came to be, but this is simply not true. What we have done is attempted to stop trademark infringers in the restaurant industry from using the trademark “Aloha Poke” without permission. This is a very common practice used across industries, and in particular, in the restaurant industry to protect the use of a business’ name and brand.

To this point, the company holds two federal trademarks for its design logo and the words “Aloha Poke” for use in connection with restaurants, catering and take out services. This means that the company has the exclusive right to use those words together in connection with restaurant services within the US. This trademark does not prevent another person or entity from using the word Aloha alone or the word Poke alone in any instance.

In the rare instance where we have needed to send notices to those using our trademark in the restaurant industry, we have done so in a cooperative manner, and all have complied with our request to rebrand without any resulting legal action. Not a single business has closed as a result of this.

We respect and understand the concerns that have been raised around these false and misleading claims. We have been moved by the passionate defense of the Hawaiian culture displayed throughout social media and want nothing more than to assure everyone of the facts in these matters. We are truly sorry for all of the confusion that this has caused.