Aloha Poke Co. has apologized in the wake of a weekend threat of a boycott after its lawyers demanded businesses with “aloha” and “poke” in their names to rebrand. The lengthy Facebook post includes an apology for triggering emotional responses from “those who care very passionately about their Hawaiian culture.” However, the statement, attributed to CEO Chris Birkinshaw, also claims the company hasn’t been fairly depicted, as they’ve denied ever trying to shut businesses run by native Hawaiians down.
“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,” the statement (see below) reads.
Over the weekend, a viral video shared by a native Hawaiian activist over cultural appropriation sparked social media anger with locals frustrated by the notion that they can’t freely use their own language.
Aloha Poke’s statement mentioned two federal trademarks for the chain’s logo and the phrase “Aloha Poke,” which covers restaurants, catering, and take-out entities. The chain claimed its trademarks don’t “prevent another person or entity from using the word ‘aloha’ alone or the word ‘poke’ alone in any instance.” Aloha Poke also claims they’ve sent out letters “in a cooperative matter” and haven’t resorted to suing a business or forced any restaurant to close.
The response didn’t sit too well with Tasha Kahele. Her family owns the business formerly known as Aloha Poke Stop in Anchorage, Alaska. She’s a native Hawaiian who moved to Alaska and opened her poke restaurant/general store in 2014, two years before the first Aloha Poke Co. opened in Chicago. Kahele claims that Aloha Poke Co.’s attorneys sent her a cease and desist letter in May and gave her today as a deadline to rebrand.
The former Aloha Poke Stop is a small space with four tables with two seats each. Kahele’s family opened the store to bring the clothing, snacks, and goods that they missed from Hawai’i with them to Alaska.
Rebranding isn’t as simple as flipping a switch, according to Kahele. They had to pay for a new logo, signage, and contact the local health department, she said. She isn’t sure if the “new” restaurant — now named Lei’s Poke Shop — is considered a new entity. She may have to go through the entire process again.
“We just weren’t prepared to do that,” Kahele said. “We were already struggling as a small family business.”
While Aloha Poke Co.’s statement painted its requests as “cooperative,” Kahele said she felt threatened in their approach. Her interactions with Aloha Poke reps were difficult, she said. While Aloha Poke has trademarked the words to protect their fiscal interests, Kahele said the words are markers for native Hawaiians, to show how they value a breed of hospitality they feel is unique.
“It’s very special to us and I think in the end, like the Maori people in New Zealand, I hope the native Hawaiian people get to keep our language and hold it sacred,” she said.
For Aloha Poke Co. to say they haven’t forced any restaurants to close is missing the full picture, Kahele said.
“We cannot financially afford to go up against those guys,” she said. “We had no choice but to comply which has caused much financial stress and hardships for the family.”