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New York restaurant Lucky Lee is under fire for advertising “clean” Chinese food.
USA TODAY

A white New York City restaurant owner is addressing backlash for marketing her Chinese food as “clean,” and saying other Chinese food makes people feel “bloated and icky.”

The comments, shared in an Instagram post that has since been deleted, placed Lucky Lee’s restaurant in the middle of a debate about racism, stereotypes and cultural appropriation.

Lucky Lee’s opened this week in Union Square, offering menu items including gluten-free baked orange cauliflower and baked General Tso’s Chicken. The spot caters to people with dietary restrictions. 

As of Friday, its Facebook page is no longer live and its Instagram is responding to previous posts that ignited the flurry of recent criticism. 

Owner and Manhattan nutritionist Arielle Haspel posted a few weeks ago that the restaurant’s lo mein won’t make people feel bad because it isn’t “too oily” or salty like other Chinese food out there. 

Food writer MacKenzie Fegan was among many calling out Lucky Lee’s marketing as uninformed, saying Haspel labeled “the entire cuisine of a sprawling, diverse country as ‘unhealthy’ and suggesting that the half-million people of Chinese descent living in New York have all been waddling around, bloated and puffy-eyed, waiting for a white wellness savior.” 

Yelp suspended reviews for Lucky Lee’s due to “unusual activity,” saying Yelp’s Support team is monitoring it. 

The restaurant responded to the backlash, promising to listen to “cultural sensitivities related to our Lucky Lee’s concept.” It also said it will continue to market its food as “high quality,” made to “make you feel great.”

As for the name of the restaurant, it’s reflective of Haspel’s husband’s name. Defending the restaurant’s Chinese decor, Lucky Lee’s said “Owners Arielle and Lee are both Jewish-American New Yorkers, born and raised … New York is the ultimate melting pot and Lucky Lee’s is another example of two cultures coming together. To us, this is a good thing.”

View this post on Instagram

The other day we received some negative comments on an Instagram post. Some of your reactions made it clear to us that there are cultural sensitivities related to our Lucky Lee’s concept. We promise you to always listen and reflect accordingly. A number of comments have stated that by saying our Chinese food is made with ‘clean’ cooking techniques and it makes you feel great that we are commenting negatively on all Chinese food. When we talk about our food, we are not talking about other restaurants, we are only talking about Lucky Lee’s. Chinese cuisine is incredibly diverse and comes in many different flavors (usually delicious in our opinion) and health benefits. Every restaurant has the right to tout the positives of its food. We plan to continue communicating that our food is made with high quality ingredients and techniques that are intended to make you feel great. Chef/owner, Arielle’s husband’s name is Lee and his life-long love of Chinese food was inspiration for the restaurant. The name Lucky Lee’s reflects the story of how the recipes were conceived. We also received negative comments related to being owners of a Chinese restaurant but not being Chinese. Owners Arielle and Lee are both Jewish-American New Yorkers, born and raised. Similar to many other Jewish New Yorkers’ diets, bagels, pastrami sandwiches and yes, American Chinese food, were big and very happy parts of their childhoods. New York is the ultimate melting pot and Lucky Lee’s is another example of two cultures coming together. To us, this is a good thing. We love American Chinese food and at Lucky Lee’s it is our intention to celebrate it everyday and serve great food. #luckyleesnyc

A post shared by Lucky Lee’s (@luckyleesnyc) on Apr 9, 2019 at 8:44am PDT

The restaurant has continued to open for lunch amid the controversy and says it will continue to serve food that is gluten-free, dairy-free and wheat-free.

More: What does ‘white fragility’ mean? Facebook discussions about race add new words to dictionaries

Follow Ashley May on Twitter: @AshleyMayTweets

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