Aloha Poke Co. near Loyola brings controversy to campus

Katie Anthony | The PhoenixAloha Poke Co. has trademarked the name “Aloha Poke,” and some believe this is cultural appropriation against Hawaiians.

Aloha Poke Co., a recently opened restaurant near Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus, has students questioning their dining choices after the chain trademarked “Aloha Poke.”

The Chicago-based chain sent cease and desist letters to Hawaiian-owned restaurants with the same or similar name, sparking a conversation about cultural appropriation among activists, restaurant owners and other community members.  

Cease and desist letters are written when a business has a copyright or trademark on which they believe another business is infringing.

Aloha Poke Co., 6462 N. Sheridan Rd., is one of 14 of the chain’s locations in the U.S.

On July 28, author and activist Dr. Kalamaokaaina Niheu made her followers aware of the letters through a Facebook live video.

Niheu said she believes the cease and desist letters are an example of cultural appropriation against Hawaiians.

“This was a blatant violation of everything we had been fighting for, it was a direct attack on our community as a whole,” Niheu said.

Niheu’s video currently has over 80,000 views and 1,500 shares. Her online petition insisting Aloha Poke Co. remove “Aloha” and “Poke” from their name amassed over 171,600 signatures from people across the country as of Sept. 4.

“We knew it would resonate in Hawaii, but we were surprised it resonated so broadly,” Niheu said.

On July 30, Aloha Poke Co. addressed the situation via a Facebook post.

“A significant amount of misinformation about Aloha Poke Co. has been shared on social media,” the post said. “First, we want to say to them directly how deeply sorry we are that this issue has been so triggering.”

Niehu said she believes their apology wasn’t sincere.

“That is certainly not what we consider an apology,” Niheu said.

Aloha Poke Co. also dismissed claims that the cease and desist letters had told Hawaiian-owned businesses they could not use the terms “Aloha” or “Poke.”

“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,” the post said.

Niheu gave The Phoenix a copy of one of the letters, from attorneys of the law offices of Olson and Cepuritis, LTD. in Chicago, addressed to Shaunacie Gooman-Kahele and Natasha Kahele, owners of Lei’s Poke Stop in Anchorage, Alaska.

“Due to the similarity of the marks, the similarity of goods and services and the actual confusion in the marketplace, your use of ‘Aloha’ and ‘Aloha Poke’ must cease immediately,” the letter stated. “While we do not seek to interfere with your business or practice of selling poke cuisine, Aloha Poke cannot let these uses continue without harming its valuable trademark rights in and goodwill associated with its Registered Trademarks.”

Niehu said the letters relate to cultural appropriation, a common topic in pop culture and media in recent years. In April, a white teenager in Utah was accused of cultural appropriation after sharing photos of her Chinese inspired prom dress. Two months later, Kim Kardashian had similar claims against her for her hairstyle.

“Cultural appropriation isn’t just a soft complaint about racism. It is the new frontier in the mining of intellectual property rights and traditional knowledge,” Niheu said. “This case really exemplifies a direct connection between appropriation and oppression.”

Caiti Lyons, first-year English major, was born in Hawaii. Lyons said she believes there are other restaurants more deserving of Loyola student’s patronage.

“I am boycotting Aloha Poke Co. I would encourage other students to boycott it, just because of what it stands for,” Lyons said. “It’s not that hard to find a different poke restaurant in Chicago.”

Other students said they have been attracted to the poke restaurant for its modern environment and 10 percent student discount.

Ruby Jackson, a first-year studying marketing, frequents Aloha Poke Co.

“I really like sushi and poke, it’s one of my favorite foods. When I saw it was across campus, I was really excited … It’s a really nice environment, I have been there like three times already,” Jackson said.

David Jacobsen was born in Hawaii and is a co-owner of Fairhaven Poke in Washington. He and his business partner, Mark Ushijima, received one of the cease and desist letters from Aloha Poke Co.

In July 2017, Jacobsen posted on Facebook that, after about a year of operation, he and his business partner, Mark Ushijima, would be changing their name from Aloha Poke Fairhaven to Fairhaven Poke.

“It just comes down to big business versus small business … we were in no position to fight it, we might have had a moral ground to stand on, but when it comes down to it we just couldn’t justify it,” Jacobsen said.

Aloha Poke Co. public relations representatives were unavailable for comment at the time of publication. Management at the Aloha Poke Co. location near Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus declined to comment.


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2 thoughts on “Aloha Poke Co. near Loyola brings controversy to campus”

  1. The issues are not Aloha Poke Co in Chicago’s use of Aloha Poke in their company name, using Native Hawaiian language, selling poke (pronounced poh-keh), not being Native Hawaiian, or not even being from Hawaii. Others from all over the world (from Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Germany, Poland, Spain, Brazil, Chile, Austria, England, Washington, California, Nevada, New York, etc.) use “Aloha Poke” in their company name, sell poke (their version of it), most are not Native Hawaiian, and most of them are not from Hawaii. Native Hawaiians and others have shared the Hawaiian culture all over the world.

    The issues are that they (Aloha Poke Co in Chicago) trademarked 2 commonly used Hawaiian words that were already in use before they (Aloha Poke Co in Chicago) even existed, then to send cease and desist letters to other companies (in Alaska, Washington, Texas, Hawaii, and other places) some of which had the name Aloha Poke in their business name before this company did. And to top that, to demand that these companies stop using “ALOHA” in any of their materials (business name, logo, signage, business cards, photographs, social media accounts, emails, bochures, menus, etc.). So, for example, these companies wouldn’t be able to say/post/advertise, “Poke served with Aloha”, “Serving Poke with Aloha”. “Service with Aloha”, “Aloha Served Here”, or “Aloha ………..” in any part of their business material without the possibly of being sued by this Aloha Poke Co in Chicago. Their cease and desist letters basically states that they can take legal action against ANY poke (a Hawaiian raw fish dish) or seafood company (even if they didn’t have Aloha Poke in their business name), for using “ALOHA” in any of their business materials. Also, by sending their cease and desist letters and telling these other poke companies that by using “ALOHA” you are infringing on our trademark, they are saying that they have trademarked “ALOHA” even if they haven’t legally done so. When Tasha Kahele, the owner of Lei’s Poke Stop (formerly Aloha Poke Stop) in Anchorage Alaska called the law firm that sent out the cease and desist letters, telling them that she was Native Hawaiian and that “ALOHA” has a deep cultural meaning to Hawaiians, asking them if they knew the meaning of “ALOHA”, she was told by them that IT WAS IRRELEVANT and that THEY OWNED IT, “ALOHA” and that they are going to go after anyone that uses it, “ALOHA”. That sounds like they are telling these other poke companies that they did indeed trademark “ALOHA” and that they owned it. Of course, they didn’t have the right to do that because the trademark didn’t give them that right, but they are bullying / itimidating these much smaller businesses to change their name (remove “Aloha Poke”) and stop using “ALOHA” in any of their business materials (signage, menu, bochures, etc.) They are telling Native Hawaiians that own poke companies that they cannot use their own language in their business. It’s like Hola Taco Co telling Mexican owned restaurants that sells tacos, they can’t use the word “HOLA” in any of their business materials (menu, bochures, signage, logos, etc.) It’s also like Welcome Burgers Company sending cease and desist letters to other burger restaurants demanding that they cease using “Welcome” in any of their business name, logos, signage, social media sites, etc., and threatening legal action against those companies for doing so. That is what their cease and desist letters are saying. Many of these smaller (family owned, Native Hawaiian owned) businesses do not have the finances to lawyer up and fight this in the courts, which they have threatened to do. Some have already rebranded (such as the one in Alaska) at great financial difficulty to themselves. This is a David vs Goliath situation. They should have never been given approval to trademark 2 commonly used Hawaiian words, “Aloha” and “Poke” by themselves or together. They neither created the brand (poke) nor the name, “Aloha Poke”. As mentioned, there were several companies already using the name “Aloha Poke” in their business name, bochure, social media accounts (facebook, instragram, twitter, etc.) before Aloha Poke Co in Chicago even existed. They probably knew this because when you search the internet you will find these other Aloha Poke companies that existed before them. They decided to SELFISHLY take advantage of this and trademark “Aloha Poke”, 2 commonly used Hawaiian words. Then to try and prevent other poke companies including Native Hawaiian owned from using their own language, “ALOHA” in their business, that is not PONO (right). Aloha Poke Co in Chicago has no real understanding nor appreciation of ALOHA, of the cultural (Hawaiian), the food (poke) and language (Aloha Poke – Olelo Hawaii) from which they had taken from. That is the issue with the Native Hawaiian community, Hawaii’s people, and those that appreciate the Hawaiian culture and food (poke). ALOHA is to be SHARED with ALL and not (so called) owned by 1 company (Aloha Poke Co in Chicago). Doing a Facebook search, you will find that there are over 40+ DIFFERENT poke restaurants (nationally, internationally, and in Hawaii) that have the name “Aloha Poke” or have “Aloha Poke as part of their name. I counted at least 4 or 5 “Aloha Poke” companies having the name before Aloha Poke Co in Chicago. Also, there are lots of poke / seafood restaurants that use “Aloha” in their business materials (signage, logo, menu, brochure, etc). Will Aloha Poke Co in Chicago eventually go after those other companies. The answer is probably most definitely YES. That is why we are fighting to take back “Aloha Poke” from Aloha Poke Co in Chicago by having them cancel the trademark or take legal action to have the trademark removed, through spreading the mo’olelo (story) of what this company is trying to do. Aloha Poke Co in Chicago has NO ALOHA. ALOHA is NOT for sale. ALOHA is for ALL.
    In his (so called) apology statement, Mr. Birkinshaw said that they were not preventing anyone from using “Aloha” (by itself) in their poke business, but that is exactly what they were trying to do. He also stated that all those companies that received the cease and desist letters complied, which wasn’t true as well.

    As I mentioned to someone else, no one is being sued (as of yet) by Aloha Poke Co in Chicago as far as we can tell, but the threat of being sued have caused (so far) 2 poke (pronounced – poh-keh) restaurants (1 in Alaska and 1 in Washington) to rebrand. 1 of the rebranding cost over $10,000. For small businesses (family owned, Native Hawaiian owned) that’s alot of money that have caused some financial difficulties. These poke restaurants felt that they had no other choice but to take the least expensive route to rebrand (change their name, signage, business cards, website, facebook account, logo, etc.) then to fight this in the courts where it could cost them into the multiple of 10s of thousands of dollars (maybe $50,000, maybe $75,000, or maybe $100,000+ , ??????). The petitions (close to 175,000 people (so far) have signed the petition), the protest and marches are to bring awareness to the greater community, the good people of Chicago and the world at large of what Aloha Poke Co in Chicago is doing, to give them an opportunity to make a real apology, to cancel their trademark on Aloha Poke and take back (if you will) “Aloha Poke” from Aloha Poke Co in Chicago because they have NO ALOHA. As I mentioned earlier, there were already 4 or 5 poke restaurants already using “Aloha Poke” in their business name before Aloha Poke Co in Chicago even existed. Now there are over 40+ different poke restaurants worldwide that uses “Aloha Poke” in their business name. So, they never created the name “Aloha Poke” They just took what was not theirs, trademarked it, and tried to make it their own. As mentioned, the Native Hawaiians had no problem with them (before this) using the name “Aloha Poke”, using their Native Hawaiian language, selling poke, not being Native Hawaiian, or not being from Hawaii. The issue arose with their cease and desist letters that were sent out demanding that these other poke companies remove “Aloha Poke” from their business names. The bigger issue is that they were demanding that these poke companies (including Native Hawaiian owned) remove “ALOHA” from all their business materials. To a Native Hawaiian that is HEWA (wrong/offensive). To Native Hawaiians, ALOHA is not just a word, it’s a way of live, it’s their Cultural, It’s in their Hula (Hawaiian Dance), it’s in their music, it’s basically their breath of life. To have someone (a company like Aloha Poke Co in Chicago) tell Native Hawaiians to remove “ALOHA” (their breath of life) from their business is not PONO (right). If the Aloha Poke Co in Chicago does not comply amicably, then the next step will be legal action with the help of Native Hawaiian organizations (in Hawaii and Nationally), other poke businesses, and other organizations and peoples willing to assist. Mahalo Nui Loa (Thank you very much) to those that have been listening and becoming aware of what have been going on with this issue.

    A company cannot survive on bad publicity for long without it affecting their bottom line. We will never reach everyone or bring everyone over to our side. That will never be, but by bringing awareness to what Aloha Poke Co in Chicago is doing, I’m sure we have reached a lot of people who would have gone to Aloha Poke Co in Chicago and their other locations before this, but have now decided not to go. Our intention is to spread the mo’olelo (story) and hope others will truly understand what is going on and stand with Native Hawaiians, Hawaii’s people, and those that appreciate the Hawaiian Culture and Poke (Native Hawaiian raw fish dish). ALOHA is NOT for sale, ALOHA is for ALL. Mahalo Nui Loa (Thank you very much) for the good people of Chicago and outlying communities, others throughout the mainland United States, and people of the world for standing with Native Hawaiians and letting Aloha Poke Co in Chicago know that they cannot do what they say they haven’t but have through their cease and desist letters. Say NO to Aloha Poke Co.

  2. You quoted *one* student who is “questioning” Aloha Poke (Lyons) and unnamed “students” who said they like it. This contradicts your lede, unless you have other interviews with students who are upset by the C&D letters.

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