A pan-Asian restaurant that opened in New York City just eight months ago shut its doors last week amid claims the white chef and career nutritionist, Arielle Haspel, “culturally appropriated” Chinese cuisine.
NBC News reports that Lucky Lee’s restaurant in Greenwich Village closed for good last Friday after being hit with a wave of accusations of racism. A sign posted on the door read, “it is with a heavy heart that we are shutting down our woks and ovens tonight.”
“We have truly loved feeding and entertaining you and your families,” the statement read. “We are very proud of our food and the space we created, but a lot needs to come together to make a restaurant work in New York City and we wish it could have succeeded as we hoped.”
Lucky Lee’s was open just eight months but faced allegations of cultural appropriation and outright racism before it even opened. Restauranteur Haspel is a former “Instagram influencer”-turned-lifestyle guru, health counseler, and jewelry designer, whose “Be Well With Arielle” site gets millions of views per month from consumers looking to “eat clean.” Lucky Lee’s was Haspel’s first foray into the restaurant world, and it was supposed to offer diners healthy Asian options.
Unfortunately, Haspel didn’t market Lucky Lee’s that way.
“We heard you’re obsessed with lo mein but rarely eat it. You said it makes you feel bloated and icky the next day? Well, wait until you slurp up our HIGH lo mein. Not too oily. Or salty,” Haspel restaurant said on social media, embracing what NBC News and critics call a “stereotype” of “dirty Chinese restaurants.” She also touted the restaurant’s decision to forgo using monosodium glutemate (or MSG), which some claim, despite evidence, triggers an allergy.
That claim is, critics suggest, rooted in longstanding biases against Chinese Americans and not in science.
Lucky Lee’s also seemed to poke fun at Chinese English speakers for their accents, with signs that read, “Wok In, Take Out.”
Eater NY documented the controversy from the very first moment, eight months ago, when Lucky Lee’s first opened, including Haspel’s apology, which she published in the New York Times just weeks after the restaurant opened: “Haspel’s stated intent was to make Chinese-inspired food for people with dietary restrictions, which on its face, is not an offensive concept. But by championing her cuisine as ‘clean’ while at the same time saying other Chinese restaurants make her feel ‘icky,’ she disrespected the very cuisine that she was trying to celebrate.”
“We thought we were complementing an incredibly important cuisine, in a way that would cater to people that had certain dietary requirements,” she wrote. “We have been listening and learning, and we have been making changes and we will continue. Shame on us for not being smarter about cultural sensitivities.”
Haspel’s restaurant is only the latest victim of accusations of “cultural appropriation.” Before Haspel, claims of racism and appropriation tanked a taco cart in Portland, operated by two white women, a Gordon Ramsay-fronted Asian food operation called “Lucky Cat,” and an ethnic food restaurant called “Hot Bar” in Baltimore.