Chinese restaurant opened by white woman shuts down 8 months after controversy

The establishment had been marred by accusations of racism and cultural appropriation from the Asian American community.
Pedestrians walk past the Lucky Lee's restaurant in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York on April 11, 2019.
Pedestrians walk past the Lucky Lee's restaurant in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York on April 11, 2019.Patrick Sison / AP file
/ Source: NBC News

Controversial New York City restaurant Lucky Lee’s announced that it closed its doors on Friday.

The establishment, which opened in April by white nutritionist Arielle Haspel, had been marred by accusations of racism and cultural appropriation from the Asian American community. It initially described its cuisine as “clean Chinese food,” comparing its meals to the “icky” dishes at traditional Chinese American joints.

In a statement on its website, the restaurant did not provide a rationale for its closure but wrote that “it is with a heavy heart that we are shutting down our woks and ovens tonight.”

“We have truly loved feeding and entertaining you and your families,” the statement read. “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.”

Haspell first drew backlash after social media users pointed out how language used in the restaurant’s posts perpetuated racist “dirty Chinese restaurant” stereotypes.

“We heard you’re obsessed with lo mein but rarely eat it. You said it makes you feel bloated and icky the next day? Well, wait until you slurp up our HIGH lo mein. Not too oily. Or salty,” one of the restaurant’s earliest social media posts, which has since been deleted, read.

Among other offenses, the restaurant also touted its MSG-less dishes as another healthy aspect to its cuisine. However, there is little evidence that actually links the food additive to negative health effects, rather racism and biases are largely to blame for its bad rap.

What’s more, many pointed out the restaurant’s name appeared to mirror that of a stereotypical Chinese joint. The restaurant later pointed out the moniker drew inspiration from Haspell’s husband, Lee.

The controversy prompted many in the Asian American community to voice frustrations on the restaurant’s social media accounts and Yelp page. The backlash even led Yelp to temporarily disable the establishment’s listing and Haspell herself eventually addressed the concerns in an interview with the New York Times.

"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," she told the outlet. "Shame on us for not being smarter about cultural sensitivities.

Lucky Lee’s did not return NBC News’ request for comment.