Chicago chain faces backlash over ‘Aloha Poke’ trademark

HONOLULU (AP) — A Chicago-based chain that trademarked “Aloha Poke” has faced backlash with calls for boycott after sending cease-and-desist letters to businesses with similar names, including the Aloha Poke Shop in Honolulu.

The letters sent on behalf of Aloha Poke Co. demanded restaurants to stop using “Aloha” and “Aloha Poke,” citing the similarities and the likelihood of confusion.

The downtown Honolulu poke restaurant received a letter in January, owner Jeff Sampson said.

“I ignored it. Sure enough, they reached out to too many people that it blew up in their face,” Sampson told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “I’m just offended by the fact that you can trademark a name like that and a language. We live aloha. They don’t even know what it means.”

Under threat of lawsuit, two poke restaurants have already changed their names, one in Bellingham, Wash., and the other in Anchorage, Ala. The Alaska poke restaurant operated by Native Hawaiians rebranded to Lei’s Poke Stop.

“We use the word ‘aloha’ in our business not to profit from it, but as an identifier in the community,” owner Tasha Kahele said. “The aloha spirit is very unique to our culture. It’s a way of living for us.”

In statement Monday, Chicago Aloha Poke Co. CEO Chris Birkinshaw said the company holds two trademarks in connection to the restaurant business, but it has not attempted to own the word or tell Hawaiian Natives they can’t use them.

“What we have done is attempted to stop trademark infringers in the restaurant industry from using the trademark ‘Aloha Poke’ without permission,” He said. “We know that this misinformation has caused a considerable amount of anger and offense among those who care very passionately about their Hawaiian culture. We want to say to them directly how deeply sorry we are that this issue has been so triggering.”