Food & Drink

Whole Foods is in hot water for partnering with a restaurant called 'Yellow Fever'

This June 15, 2017, photo shows a Whole Foods Market sign at a store in Coral Gables, Fla.
This June 15, 2017, photo shows a Whole Foods Market sign at a store in Coral Gables, Fla. AP Photo

Whole Foods can be a divisive chain among shoppers. But the grocer's fans and foes alike are having a hard time defending the decision to name a new restaurant in California after a viral disease.

"Yellow Fever" is a newly opened Asian eatery at a Whole Foods location in Long Beach. The company tweeted a photo Wednesday announcing the grand opening, and in the days since then, outrage followed for a few different reasons.

For starters, the decision to name a restaurant after an illness seems baffling and even disgusting to some. As one Forbes contributor began his story: "Would you eat at the Rabies Restaurant?"

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, yellow fever is found in parts of Africa and South America. It's transmitted mainly by mosquitoes and its symptoms include fever, chills and aches. Mild cases are not serious, but serious ones can have a fatality rate between 20 and 50 percent.

But that's just one part of the issue. The phrase "yellow fever" has taken on racist connotations in some circles and is perceived as racist enough that a moderate Twitter-based angry mob formed almost immediately.

The phrase is often used informally in reference to sexual interest and/or fetishism involving Asian women, usually by white males.

However, restaurant owner and head chef Kelly Kim told The Washington Post that there is no intent of racism or sexual undertones; she instead interprets "yellow fever" as "an attraction or affinity" of Asian culture, she said.

The Washington Post also notes that this is actually Kim's third location in the Los Angeles area by the name of Yellow Fever; the first opened in 2013. Kim says she has not had her restaurants receive much backlash before and points out that most of the people raising issue now seem to be white rather than Asian.

"We’re just a small business. Now all of a sudden people are bashing on us," she told The Post.

Yelp reviews suggest that, regardless of people's opinion on the name, customers find the food to be quite good.

But with the spotlight of a partnership with a Whole Foods 365 location and the extra visibility that brings, the "bashing" has been significant.

One woman tweeted in response: "Is there no one in your corporate cocoon to tell you what a toxic idea this racist name was?"

Whole Foods is owned by Amazon.