Aloha Poke Co. Rewarded For Trademark Bullying With Protests Outside Its Headquarters In Chicago

from the poke-in-the-chi dept

On the matter of trademark bullying, we typically talk about these cases as matters of legal outcomes and courtroom repercussions. Less discussed is the power of the masses in the form of protest and public shaming in order to combat trademark bullies. And, yet, that appears to be part of the equation trying to solve the irritation that is Aloha Poke Co.’s trademark bullying of actual Hawaiian poke joints out of their own culture.

You will recall that we recently discussed Aloha Poke Co., the Chicago-based poke chain that doesn’t count any actual Hawaiians among its founders, firing off cease and desist letters to all manner of other joints that use some version of “Aloha” and “Poke” in their names. Most of these other entities are owned and operated by actual Hawaiians, from which both words and their cultural relevance stems. With so many entities out there using what are fairly generic terms in the realm of anything Hawaiian, the suggestion for public confusion made by Aloha Poke Co. seems spurious at best. Perhaps as importantly, if the company thought that the public wouldn’t get wind of its bullying, it appears that it was very, very wrong, as protests at its Chicago headquarters have been organized.

The first protest is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday in front of Aloha Poke Co.’s corporate headquarters at 303 W. Madison St. Another one is scheduled 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Aug. 15 in front of the company’s Lincoln Park location at 818 W. Fullerton Ave. A march in the Loop is also being planned for Monday, though details are still being confirmed.

Lanialoha Lee, who founded Aloha Center Chicago, is spearheading the Aug. 15 protest. She first became aware of the controversy after watching the video from Dr. Kalama O Ka Aina. “Everybody I know messaged me about it,” says Lee. “It was all over my Facebook. I was really stunned.” Lee hopes that the protests open “more eyes on the corporate level and at the restaurant level.”

Most of those involved in organizing the protests are setting their aim on educating the restaurant as to how important these words and dishes are to Hawaiian culture, not to mention how those terms have been shared without incident across many businesses and restaurants. While that is exactly the right tone to take, it seems likely that the press surrounding the Chicago company being protested by Hawaiians and those interested in protecting Hawaiian culture will play a role as well. That will be all the more the case given some of the incendiary language choices the restaurant has engaged in when responding to the first news reports on its bullying, such as calling it all “fake news.”

That kind of public exposure and shaming can have as profound and a far speedier impact than any legal proceedings. Aloha Poke is in the business of making money, after all, and this kind of exposure and coverage carries no positive public relations weight at all. If trademark bullies can be defeated in the court of public opinion rather than in actual courtrooms, all the better.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: aloha poke

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Aloha Poke Co. Rewarded For Trademark Bullying With Protests Outside Its Headquarters In Chicago”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
trollificus (profile) says:

Good to see

Seldom see identity politics accomplish anything but divisiveness and excuse-making, so this is truly refreshing.

People adopting aspects of some other culture is seldom anything other than enriching and positive. But when a CORPORATION does it, it’s probably wise to assume the motives are less innocent. In this case, it’s the abuse, rather than the appropriation, that’s most problematic, but go get ’em anyway!

Daydream says:

So...why protest?

I’m confused as to the purpose of a protest. Is it precisely to make noise and draw widespread attention to Aloha Poke’s wrongdoings? Is there an implied threat in it, a threat of boycott by all of these people and everyone who hears about the protest if Aloha Poke don’t start behaving themselves?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Court of Public Opinion

This is an article about trademark bullying.

The events surround the actions and public reaction to a trademark bully.

The court of public opinion in this case would threaten the bottom line of the trademark bully.

None of this has anything to do with, or says about the policies that are or should be adopted, with regard to asylum seekers. That is an entirely separate discussion that should be discusses on its own merits, not shoehorned into discussion on something that has nothing to do with it.

Please try to keep your comments relevant, it will be better for everyone.

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Court of Public Opinion

They (the Chicago company) is doing something lawful but stupid.
Pointing out that this is stupid, via articles (like this one) and protests makes the company aware that they are doing something that may cost them business. As well as letting potential customers know that the company might be engaged in something they disapprove of.
Seems like a reasonable alternative to lawyering up. “Let the free market decide” only works if people can make informed choices.

Leonard Oshiro says:

ALOHA is NOT for sale! ALOHA is for ALL!

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 po-kay), not being Native Hawaiian, or not even being from Hawaii. Others from all over the world (from Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Germany, 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.
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, 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”, 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) 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”. 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 (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 cultural 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. That is why we are fighting to take back “Aloha Poke” from Aloha Poke Co in Chicago, 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 Friedlander said that they were not preventing anyone from using “Aloha”. He also stated that all those companies that received the cease and desist letters complied, which wasn’t truth. Aloha Poke Co in Chicago’s cease and desist letters (multiple letters sent out to different poke companies) clearly states that they did.

As I mentioned to someone else, no one is being sued (at this time) 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 – po-kay) 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 with 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 and the biggest 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 the 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), 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 doesn’t 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.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...