For native and ethnic Hawaiians, the word “Aloha” means more than the commonly understood greeting and farewell.
The word is a kind of ethos, and insight into a particular way of life frequently referred to as “The Aloha Spirit.” If we break down the word further there are three component parts: ‘alo’ which means sharing, ‘oha’ which means joy, and ‘ha’ which means life/breath. When accounting for the grammatical rules of the language, aloha translates into the philosophy “joyfully sharing life.” Ironically, however, the word “Aloha” is involved in a recent federal trademark dispute this past July.
Aloha Poke Co.
Aloha Poke Co. is a Chicago-based restaurant chain that had a two-year-old federal trademark on the name and recently began sending cease and desist letters to businesses with title similarities. Some of these businesses included local favorites owned by Native Hawaiians, like the Honolulu-based Aloha Poke Shop. The owner of this downtown Honolulu shop, Jeff Sampson, ignored the letter and remarked that he was offended foreign businesses were able to trademark a name like that, seeing it as trademarking an entire language. Other restaurants did not stand up in the same way and bent under the pressure of potential lawsuits. These include a poke restaurant in Bellingham, WA and another native-Hawaiian shop in Anchorage, AK. The latter, although avoiding lawsuit, still incurred great expenses in the thousands to adapt logos, advertising, signage, and marketing, after changing their name to “Lei’s Poke Stop.”
The Aloha Poke Company faced notable public backlash after a Hawaiian activist Kalamaokaaina Niheu created a viral Facebook video that emphasized strong-arm techniques of Aloha Poke Co. Highlighting of Aloha Poke Co.’s trademark activity sparked outrage, and Niheu had garnered more than a hundred and fifty thousand signatures for a petition. The activist also organized a rally with American indigenous supporters at multiple Aloha Poke locations in Lincoln Park, downtown Chicago, and at their headquarters. Critics are also aiming poor reviews on Yelp, and there are calls for a boycott.
In a response statement by Aloha Poke Co. CEO Chris Birkinshaw, he explained that the company did not demand Hawaiian Natives to stop using the words “Aloha” and “Poke.” He claims the trademark is a legal attempt to avoid confusion in the US restaurant industry. The trademark would inhibit trademark infringers exclusively within the context of restaurant services from using “Aloha Poke” together without explicit permission. The statement emphasizes that restaurants that received a trademark notice have complied cooperatively in changing their name and that Aloha Poke’s activities have not caused one single business to close its doors. The CEO focused on the commonality of the practice across industries and in particular restaurant industries. Birkinshaw also apologizes in the statement to those who care deeply about the Hawaiian language and that the company’s intentions were never to disrespect the Hawaiian culture.
What do you think?
I have written this article with the goal of omitting bias. I think it’s worth mentioning that I am native Hawaiian in ancestry. I also am a poke enthusiast. Despite my personal stake in the issue, I would love to hear your opinion. Do you think it’s reasonable for a business to trademark the term Aloha Poke? What course of action do you think would be best to take? Please discuss below! Would you like to see more posts like this from me?
*Images for this post were provided with permission from It’s Raw Poke Shop.