A Chicago-based company that trademarked the name ‘Aloha Poke’ has ignited a social media storm and calls for a boycott after sending cease-and-desist letters to local and mainland businesses with similar names.
In two letters obtained by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, a law firm representing Aloha Poke Holdings LLC demands businesses immediately stop using the words ‘Aloha’ and ‘Aloha Poke’ “due to the similarity of the marks … of the goods and services and a likelihood of confusion in the marketplace.”
“Aloha Poke would prefer to settle this matter amicably and without court intervention,” wrote Brian Michalek, a patent attorney for Olson & Cepuritis Ltd. in Chicago, requesting businesses not use the words when selling food, products and services and immediately “destroy all packaging, marketing materials, advertising, photographs, Internet usage.”
Representatives of Aloha Poke didn’t respond to requests for comment.
An online petition started by Native Hawaiian activist Dr. Kalamaokaaina Niheu is now calling for a boycott of the Chicago restaurant chain “until they remove aloha and poke from their name.”
“They essentially want our food, our culture, our spice and they want our language but they want to discard our people. We as people in Hawaii know aloha is used everywhere,” she said. “It’s like trademarking the word ‘hello.’ People have the right to their food, culture, heritage and their language.”
The first business to change its name due to the threat of litigation was a Washington state restaurant, which last year dropped ‘Aloha” from its former name, Aloha Poke Fairhaven. It’s now called Fairhaven Poke.
On Friday, Aloha Poke Shop in Anchorage Alaska, run by Native Hawaiians, rebranded to Lei’s Poke Stop.
“It has been an uproar of our people. We’re just blown away right now. The words meant a lot to us,” said, Tasha Kahele, who runs the business with her husband and six children. “We use the word aloha in our business not to profit from it, but as an identifier in the community. The aloha spirit is very unique to our culture. It’s a way of living for us.”
Jeff Sampson, owner of Aloha Poke Shop in downtown Honolulu, a small business that opened in November 2016, said: “We got our love letter in January. I ignored it. Sure enough they reached out to too many people that it blew up in their face. I’m just offended on the fact that you can trademark a name like that and a language. We live aloha. They don’t even know what it means.”