A deluge of criticism on social media and a petition signed by more than 6,700 people have prompted new Rosemère restaurant Pho King Bon to apologize for offending members of the Vietnamese community and vow to rename several items on its menu.
The restaurant’s menu invites readers to mispronounce the names of traditional Vietnamese dishes to facilitate sexually explicit, or otherwise crude, wordplay. “Pho King Bon Restaurant claims to be an homage to Vietnamese culture, but uses vulgar and degrading puns in its name and menu … making our language the butt of a joke,” Kim Nguyen, who initiated the petition to change the restaurant’s name and menu, writes on Change.org.
The menu also features a drink called “Viet Kong,” a reference to Việt Cộng, the pro-communist guerrilla forces responsible for mass bloodshed during the Vietnam war. “This is extremely insensitive towards the people who have faced the atrocities of the war and of the authoritarian government in Vietnam,” Nguyen added.
In a statement posted to Facebook yesterday, Guillaume Boutin, co-owner of the restaurant, apologized to the Vietnamese community and offered to make a donation “directly to them in order to assist and help in any causes which they hold close to their heart.” Though the restaurant insists “it was never our intention to hurt or undermine anyone,” it has promised to make the requested changes to its menu.
The renaming of the “Viet Kong” shooter is among the modifications the restaurant says will happen within two week’s time (accounting for delays in graphic design and printing). “From now on, we are thoroughly engaged in studying the etymology of any new names we may have for items on the menu ensuring that not even a single hint of racism is present,” the Facebook post reads.
Moving forward, the restaurant will also no longer call itself a “Vietnamese Bistro,” opting instead for “Bistro Fusion” as its tagline.
When reached Tuesday, Boutin told Eater, “I changed almost everything they wanted me to except for our name ... I gave a sincere apology, but to some people that’s still not enough, and it has become even more viral ... I have people from all over the world writing to me with hate speech ... What else can I do?”
Though Nguyen claimed victory for her petition on Monday after the statement promising the modifications was posted, the 2,500 comments appearing beneath the Facebook post suggest that many feel the actions taken by the restaurant are inadequate.
Minh Vy Trinh, a first-generation Canadian whose parents immigrated from Vietnam after the war, tells Eater that renaming the menu items was the “bare minimum” the restaurant could have done.
“I really feel that his apology was fake and meaningless ... It was really just about saving face amid the pressure from the Vietnamese community,” Trinh says. She was among the first to leave a negative review on the restaurant’s Facebook page on Friday, and says after criticizing the use of the Vietnamese language elsewhere on the page, was blocked from leaving comments.
“He’s not actually apologizing, and there wasn’t much recognition on their part from the start,” Julie Tran, a master’s student studying anti-Asian sentiment at the University of Ottawa, told Patrick Masbourian on Radio-Canada’s “Tout un matin” this morning.
The criticism doesn’t end there: According to Le Devoir, Impératif français, an organization that promotes and protects the French language in Quebec, also finds the wordplay “unacceptable,” and has filed a complaint with the Office de la langue française du Québec (OLFQ), the province’s language watchdog. The OLFQ has confirmed that it is investigating the matter.