The restaurant game has never been easy. It’s not just about the food. Sadly a lot of the time, it never is. You need hype, the right location and something quintessentially unique that will grab the uninitiated’s attention (and more importantly, their wallets). A difficult equation to get correct, no doubt about it.
The majority of people who follow this business model will pour all their attention into one section and forget the other components (or realize, maybe even consciously know, they have forgotten) and try and overcompensate with something as trivial as a catchy name.
Enter Ryan Vermaak and Fabio di Cosmo, two aspiring restaurateurs based in Johannesburg, South Africa, who failed to see anything wrong with naming their yet-to-open “Asian restaurant” Misohawni. “Don’t you just love that name?” the pair tweeted yesterday. Their Twitter bio dons the phrase “Misohawni is ‘C*mming Soon'”.
Whether you’re keeling over in laughter or disgusted these two could have the audacity to believe their casual racism is still in play, I’ll explain what’s going down. The name is a phonetic spelling of a phrase used by a Vietnamese prostitute in the 1987 war film Full Metal Jacket.
In the scene in question, the woman approaches two American soldiers and propositions them for sex. One of them he’ll only pay her $10, before posing for a photo with her and calling her a “[insert racial slur here] whore.”
The internet’s reaction to the name has been swift, and overwhelmingly negative. One Twitter user from South Africa going by @janine_j captured the disheartened side of the argument perfectly, saying:
“Just heard an interview with the owner of @misohawni where he’s like ‘there’s no inspiration behind the name, we just thought it was clever play on words’. Honestly, seriously, what? Asian women are saying this is hurtful & dehumanising & racist and he’s like ‘Kanye Shrug'”.
Several women said that they had been harassed by men who shouted that very phrase to them. In a very powerful Twitter thread, some of it shown above, writer Dakota Kim (@dakotakim1) discussed the many problems with the name.
Dakota explains the name was a “celebration of the colonization” of minority women’s bodies by white men. “When you put this on your sign, your menu, you celebrate your power over me,” she said.
Amidst all the toxic news stories, Vermaak and Di Cosmo were quick to respond. In a Facebook post, they apologized for the name and said they would be “taking immediate steps” to resolve a situation that they euphemistically categorized as a “mishap”.
Some of the post reads: “In our enthusiasm to open the restaurant, we fully admit that we showed serious lack of expertise and understanding when it came to the name, and fell back on an ingrained stereotype that we clearly did not understand, and for that we are sorry,” The duo insists that the restaurant will still go forward.
There is scepticism over whether the apology is genuine or not, but some action has been taken and a lesson has been (hopefully) learned. We can all agree that this story goes to show that the road to equality is still a very long one. Let’s try and use food as a catalyst.