Lucky Lee’s Owner Apologizes After Backlash Over Her ‘Clean’ Versions of Chinese Dishes

Restaurant Lucky Lee’s has addressed criticisms of racism and cultural appropriation with a public apology on Instagram.

The New York establishment raised quite a ruckus on its opening day with a social media post on Monday touting a “clean” alternative to “oily” and “salty” Chinese cuisine.

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@luckyleesnyc opening on MONDAY! After 4 years of recipe testing, shlepping grocery bags to and from client cooking classes, tasting way too many versions of Sesame Chicken, my hands smelling of ginger and garlic and waking up at 3am with nightmares about chopsticks, I’m excited to share this new venture and for you to experience the Lucky Lee’s magic. May this restaurant give you that crispy, sweet & yummy food that you crave, in a vibrant atmosphere that makes you feel uplifted, with ingredients that make you feel great. Grateful for an incredible team of wok chefs, dishwashers, cashiers, architects, interior designers, florists, fabricators, plumbers, engineers, lighting designers, exterminators, inspectors, graphic designers, chefs, mentors, investors, consultants and YOU who are making this restaurant come to life. Feeling lucky. See you soon NYC! 🙏🥟🥢🎉 #feelgreatchinese #luckyleesnyc #luckylees

A post shared by Arielle Haspel (@bewellwitharielle) on

Arielle Haspel, the owner of Lucky Lee’s, had earlier written on Instagram how her “Chinese” recipes replace dishes that make people “feel bloated and icky the next day.”

She explained to Eater that her methods of preparation are for “people who love to eat Chinese food and love the benefit that it will actually make them feel good.”

Haspel mentioned that her dishes do not use monosodium glutamate (MSG) as it allegedly “ is something that people claim to have certain reactions to.”

Such belief has been debunked years ago, with the Food and Drug Administration deeming it safe for consumption.

Despite Haspel and her husband, Lee, not being of Asian descent, Haspel chose a name that sounded stereotypically Chinese.

Not unlike many oriental-themed restaurants in the U.S., Lucky Lee’s is decorated with unsurprising touches like bamboo and jade. The logo even has a chopstick-inspired font.

Responding to the backlash, Haspel tells the New York Times that she had good intentions.

“We are so sorry,” she was quoted as saying. “We were never trying to do something against the Chinese community. We thought we were complementing an incredibly important cuisine, in a way that would cater to people that had certain dietary requirements.”

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From our owner, Arielle: I am genuinely sorry to have disappointed and hurt so many of you. We learned that our marketing perpetuated negative stereotypes that the Chinese American community has been trying to fight for decades. As a health coach turned first-time restaurateur, I never meant for the word “clean” to mean anything other than in the “clean-eating” philosophy, which caters towards a specific nutrition and wellness lifestyle. I also did not realize that the plays on words we used for marketing purposes were reminiscent of offensive language used against the Chinese American community. I was naive and I am sorry. We promise to do better. We have adjusted the verbiage in our marketing and are proactively engaging the Chinese American community to understand how to make positive changes. We are grateful to those who have reached out directly with constructive thoughts, and encourage you to keep doing so in a positive manner. Lucky Lee’s is inspired by American-Chinese food. We are aware that American-Chinese recipes were originally modified to suit western palates and that it is not a representation of authentic Chinese food. My husband and I are native New Yorkers for whom General Tso’s chicken was a big and happy part of our Jewish childhoods. I set out to serve delicious American-Chinese inspired dishes aligned with my health requirements and preferences. I have done this with many different types of cuisines, and American Chinese dishes were some of our favorites. While we acknowledge that trust must be earned, in the spirit of food as something that often unites people, we hope we can move forward positively so we can eat well, live well and be well…together. Be Well, Arielle #luckyleesnyc

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Haspel also took to Instagram on Tuesday to apologize for having “disappointed and hurt so many of you.”

“We learned that our marketing perpetuated negative stereotypes that the Chinese American community has been trying to fight for decades,” she continued.

“As a health coach turned the first-time restaurateur, I never meant for the word ‘clean’ to mean anything other than in the ‘clean-eating’ philosophy, which caters towards a specific nutrition and wellness lifestyle. I also did not realize that the plays on words we used for marketing purposes were reminiscent of offensive language used against the Chinese American community. I was naive and I am sorry.” 

Featured image via Instagram/bewellwitharielle (left) and king_dacoshaw (right)

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