Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Flap over 'Roundeye Noodle Bar'

The name is racist, says an Asian American group.

Flap over 'Roundeye Noodle Bar'

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At Matyson , chef Ben Puchowitz (right) and his business partner, Shawn Darragh, with a ramen dish. The two are planning a more noodle-centric eatery, to be called Roundeye Noodle Bar.
At Matyson , chef Ben Puchowitz (right) and his business partner, Shawn Darragh, with a ramen dish. The two are planning a more noodle-centric eatery, to be called Roundeye Noodle Bar. SHARON GEKOSKI-KIMMEL / Staff Photographer
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Roundeye Noodle Bar - for now, a "pop-up" restaurant as it awaits a permanent home - has drawn the ire of Asian Americans United, an advocacy group.

Organizer Helen Gym says the name is racist. "In the owners' words, they are 'two white boys from the suburbs' ... creating a 'hip noodle spot,'" she wrote in an email advisory to the media over the weekend, on the eve of Roundeye's second pop-up. Roundeye is the creation of friends (and Anglos) Shawn Darragh and Matyson chef Ben Puchowitz.

"But if these self-named 'white boys' are the 'roundeye' noodle makers what does that make the Asian noodle places they're modeling their place after? As a city notoriously home to Chink's Steaks, it's really a shame that a well-regarded spot like Matysons [sic] would lower their reputation to a legacy of petty, derogatory names in an effort to be 'hip.'"

She continued: "I don't think the owners of 'Roundeye'  had specific intent, but that's exactly the problem with racial stereotypes - they're so deeply ingrained people don't even question it.

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I also heard from AAU executive director Ellen Somekowa, who wrote: "If you grow up Asian in America, there is no more common put down than ridicule of the shape of our eyes. There is no way to hear the name, 'Roundeye,' without at the same time hearing what it is being contrasted to. .. A very hurtful racist slur -- SLANTEYES."

Darragh said he heard from an AAU representative Saturday. "We're not really sure what to do with this," he told me. "She was very nice,. We intended it as a play on words, making fun of ourselves - not trying to be offensive to anyone.  We're not racist, but this is making us out to be racist. The weird thing is that the majority of our customers are Asian. Some of the them think it's a funny name. Some people get offended and some don't."

He said they might consider changing the name once a permanent home was found for the noodle restaurant.

The idea of a restaurant is progressing. Darragh said they now have an investor, and they're beginning to scour Center City for a location.

Sunday's pop-up, held at Matyson, drew about 250 people, he said.

Read Drew Lazor's commentary: An Asian-American take on the Roundeye Noodle name

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Michael Klein, the editor/producer of philly.com/Food, writes about the local restaurant scene in his Inquirer column "Table Talk." Have a question? Email it! See his Inquirer work here.

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