Chicago Chain's Trademark of Hawaiian Words Sparks Uproar

'Aloha poke' is off-limits, company says
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 1, 2018 3:33 PM CDT
Chicago Chain's Trademark of Hawaiian Words Sparks Outrage
A poke bowl.   (Getty Images / ahirao_photo)

You can say "aloha." You can say "poke." But if you put the words together, you may end up with a cease and desist letter from Aloha Poke Co. Critics of the Chicago-based chain—which produces the traditional Hawaiian dish of seasoned raw fish over rice—say that its 2016 trademark of the phrase "Aloha Poke" and its efforts to defend that trademark amount to cultural appropriation and bullying, the Guardian reports. The situation came to light recently when Lei's Poke Stop (formerly Aloha Poke Stop), which is located in Alaska and run by a Hawaiian family, announced on Facebook that it had changed its name, per Eater. After getting a cease and desist order from an Aloha Poke Co lawyer in May, the eatery decided to comply because, says one of the owners, "We cannot financially afford to go up against those guys."

Other poke restaurants have received similar letters, according to the Guardian—including Aloha Poke Shop in Honolulu. Co-owner Jeff Samson says he's decided to ignore the demands. He says he once considered trademarking his shop's name but decided against it, saying: "How could you trademark aloha? How could you trademark poke?" But, like Lei's Poke Stop, other shops have changed their names to avoid the expense of a legal battle. These may be pyrrhic victories for Aloha Poke Co, however, as critics take aim at the company on Yelp and call for a boycott; a viral video and petition also call attention to the issue. In a lengthy Facebook post, the company claims the campaign against it is based on "misinformation" and says that people are free to use "aloha" and "poke," they just can't combine them in a restaurant name. (More trademark stories.)

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