When you set out to build a food brand around a deeply pervasive stereotype, there’s bound to be controversy. But the owners of a small rice bowl chain called Yellow Fever pushed through with their idea to subvert the negative meaning of the term—it’s typically used to describe a white man’s sexual fetish for Asian —claiming their goal was not to perpetuate it but to re-claim it.
Yet, a little over a year since Yellow Fever expanded into Long Beach with its news-garnering location inside of Long Beach Exchange’s Whole Foods 365 store, all three locations of the fast-casual chain are closing effective immediately.
According to Eater L.A., the two newest locations, Long Beach and Marina Del Rey, already stopped service this week. The original, which opened in a Torrance strip mall over five years ago, will remain open until Sunday (or, according to their Instagram, until the food runs out).
Owner and chef Michelle Kim—a Texas-born Korean American who grew up lacking exposure to traditional Korean food and culture—said she chose the name because she didn’t want to be tied down to one cuisine.
She defended her use of the name Yellow Fever from the start, saying it perfectly encapsulated the cross-cultural, “Asian version of Chipotle” experience she was trying to give diners through her food.
“One night, we just said, ‘Yellow fever!’ and it worked,” Kim told the Post last year. “It’s tongue-in-cheek, kind of shocking, and it’s not exclusive—you can fit all Asian cultures under one roof with a name like this. We just decided to go for it.”
At the Long Beach outpost, which was near-empty of customers on multiple visits over the last year, the wall-mounted menu reflected this shock-and-include approach to rice bowls.
Korean hangul script, Japanese kanji and Vietnamese words were used alongside English translations to welcome people and thank them for coming. The options for the bowls themselves were also themed by Asian countries, but with the flavors toned down from the traditional meals they were meant to mimic.
The Seoul, accompanied on the menu by an icon of the Korean rapper Psy, was a riff on bibimbap with grilled filet mignon, mushrooms, kale, a meh gochujang sauce and a fried egg. The Saigon, with its caricature of a figure in a straw conical hat, was essentially an unbalanced bún, mostly shredded carrots and sprouts with a side of salted-and-grilled chicken breast doused in a sauce that was afraid to be as fishy as it should have been.
Yellow Fever was designed to offend. Too bad it wasn’t designed to have better food to go with it.
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