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Lucky Lee’s – the controversial ‘clean’ Chinese restaurant in New York City from blogger Arielle Haspel — closes after just 8 months

Haspel touted Lucky Lee’s as a “healthier” alternative to Chinese takeout and was met with cries of cultural appropriation

After health and lifestyle blogger Arielle Haspel opened her restaurant, Lucky Lee’s earlier this year and advertised it as a healthier alternative to American Chinese takeout food that usually “makes people feel bloated and icky the next day,” she was met with immediate backlash. But even though Haspel issued an apology for the cultural appropriative marketing, it wasn’t enough: After just eight months in business Lucky Lee’s has closed, according to the restaurant’s social media post.

While the lengthy Instagram post thanked the entire team and loyal customers for “making their vision a reality,” Haspel did not go into detail about why they closed specifically, though she hinted that the business was just not very successful:

“It is with a heavy heart that we are shutting down our woks and ovens tonight,” Haspel wrote in an Instagram post earlier this week. “We have truly loved feeding and entertaining you and your families. We are very proud of our food and the space we created, but a lot needs to come together to make a restaurant work in New York City and we wish it could have succeeded as we hoped.”

Arielle Haspell — known for healthy lifestyle blog “Be Well With Arielle — began drumming up anticipation for her first restaurant Lucky Lee’s in April 2019 by advertising it as “clean” Chinese food that would not make the consumer feel “bloated and icky” the next day and wasn’t “too oily or salty.” But the controversial advertising copy was met with swift controversy and cries of cultural appropriation from critics who decried the Caucasian chef for seemingly making the comparison to traditional Chinese food as the “dirty” or “icky” alternative.   

Critics also took issue with the name of the restaurant itself: while Lucky Lee’s sounds like a traditional Chinese restaurant name, the restaurant was actually named after Haspell’s husband, Lee (who is also Caucasian). 

Following the backlash, Haspell immediately removed the offending social media posts and apologized in a New York Times interview saying, “we were never trying to do something against the Chinese community. We thought we were complementing an incredibly important cuisine, in a way that would cater to people that had certain dietary requirements.”

Haspell is not the only white restaurateur to be accused of cultural insensitivity: In late 2018, food TV personality Andrew Zimmern opened up his own Chinese-American restaurant called Lucky Cricket in Minneapolis, touting himself as a forerunner of authentic Asian cuisine in the Midwest that would save “the souls of all the people from having to dine at these horses**t restaurants masquerading as Chinese food that are in the Midwest,” according to an interview with Fast Company.

Chef Gordon Ramsay’s “Asian Eating House” Lucky Cat faced similar criticism when it opened in London this April. 

Over the course of its short tenure in Greenwich Village, Lucky Lee’s maintained a shaky 2.5-stars on Yelp, with reviewers complaining about the “bland” food and Haspell’s controversial comments.  

“While we are heartbroken to say goodbye to Lucky Lee’s, we know that the future still looks bright and delicious,” Haspell’s farewell Instagram post said.

Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @joannafantozzi

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