In an interview with The Washington Post, Kelly Kim remembers saying, "That's memorable," after thinking of the name Yellow Fever for her restaurant. However, after Whole Foods received backlash for being home to the establishment's third location, it's apparent the name is "memorable" for the wrong reasons.


In 2013, Kelly Kim attempted to create an interesting name for her restaurant. Not wanting to rely on the typical names for pan-Asian eating establishments and include terms used to stereotype the culture, such as "dragon," Kim longed to be different.

Eventually, she and her husband decided on something very different: Yellow Fever.

After opening their first location in late 2013, the husband-wife duo gained enough traction to open an additional two locations. The most recent addition opened this past Wednesday in a very popular spot: Whole Foods 365's Long Beach, California location.

The Backlash

It didn’t take long for Yellow Fever to result in the public’s seeing red. Once the new location was announced, many took to social media with their critiques.

Almost immediately, the public made connections that owner Kelly Kim never did. The term “yellow fever” is more than just a restaurant name. Yellow fever is also the name given to a disease that kills thousands of people every year.

Primarily affecting Africa, the mosquito-borne infection earned its name from the virus’s jaundice hemorrhage.

Of course, Yellow Fever conjures up something else. Though not necessarily more harmful than the disease its named for, “yellow fever” is also a term that perpetuates stereotypes against the Asian community. It refers to the sexual fascination some white men have for Asian women.

This fascination is damaging to the people it targets. Not only does it fetishize an entire group of women, but the growing “yellow fever” has resulted in the over-sexualization of Asian women.

Asian-American women’s identity is often intensified. Stereotyped as “hyperfeminine,” people often expect them to be submissive and pliable.

Sometimes, they are lumped together as “geisha girls.” Both of these stereotypes either result in or are the result of yellow fever. As white men fawn over their “ideal Asian woman,” they strip the women of their identity, making it so they are just one thing: an “exotic” Asian woman.

The Company's Reaction

According to Kim, Yellow Fever’s name was not a problem before Wednesday’s opening. Defining “yellow fever” herself as “an attraction or affinity of Asian people or Asian things,” including K-pop, Kim claims she never thought the phrase would have a negative sexual connotation.

“I never took it to have a deeper meaning,” Kim explains. “It's a little tongue in cheek, but I never saw it as offensive or racist or anti-feminist.”

At the same time, Kim did not open Yellow Fever being blind to the possibility of critiques on her restaurant’s name, something she has made evident in previous interviews.

In a 2017 interview with Asian culture site, she told a story that acknowledged the name’s implications: “Once, I had a friend who was grabbing our food for lunch and her white friend wasn't sure if he was allowed to eat here.”

Based on Yellow Fever company material that was provided to the Washington Post, Kim continues to defend the name choice. The material claims, “[W]e choose to embrace the term and reinterpret it positively for ourselves.”

Additionally, Kim recalls discussions with Whole Foods about her establishment's name, but she cannot remember any Whole Foods executives having a problem with it.

A possible explanation for Kim’s claim that Yellow Fever never received such backlash before is its new location.

The grocery chain, whose locations are no stranger to drama, has often come under fire. Overall, Whole Foods tends to be synonymous with a certain demographic: well-off white people. Though this isn't the first (or worst) time a food establishment has been accused of racism, Whole Foods' decision to have a restaurant with such a racially-charged name appears insensitive.

It is worth noting, however, that some of the criticisms against Yellow Fever have been toned down once critics learned about the restaurant’s background. Knowing Yellow Fever has existed since 2013, didn’t originate in Whole Foods, and was created by an Asian-American woman has made some people rethink their harsh words.