“Chop Chop Chinaman” Restaurant Closes Months After Backlash Over Racist Name

Photo via Jeannie Harrell.
Photo via Jeannie Harrell.

In March, social media exploded with the story of a woman who was arrested for vandalism after she used lipstick to challenge a newly opened Chicago eatery for its racist name. The restaurant was called “Chop Chop Chinaman”, a reference to a number of archaic anti-Asian slurs and stereotypes. Local resident Jeannie Harrell scrawled on the restaurant’s front window, “Fuck this hate crime shit. It’s 2015.” and posted a picture of the graffiti on Instagram, leading to her arrest and misdemeanor charges. Harrell’s court appearance occurred on Tuesday; she plead guilty and was sentenced to 1-month suspension and a $200 fine.

However, most agreed — then and now — that even if Harrell might have committed vandalism, she was right to point out that the restaurant name is indeed offensive and racist. The story of Harrell’s arrest prompted a social media backlash against “Chop Chop Chinaman”, including numerous 1-star reviews of the restaurant on Yelp, leaving the restaurant with an overall 1.5 star average rating.

chop-chop-chinaman

In news articles published in March, restaurant manager (or owner; reports vary) Larry Lee, who is Chinese American, defended the restaurant’s name. Speaking to DNAinfo, Lee said:

That’s how we were classified when we were building railroads in this country,” said Lee, whose grandparents emigrated from China and who describes himself as “active” in the corporation that owns the restaurant.

Lee went on to defend “Chinaman”, comparing it to “Englishman” or “Irishman”.

Except, Chinaman is indisputably a racist slur.

Last week, DNAInfo reported that after a mere three months since the controversy, “Chop Chop Chinaman” has shuttered its doors. Lee told reporters that the decision to shut the restaurant down had nothing to do with the racism controversy. Speaking to the Chicago Tribune, Lee said the restaurant closure was temporary, and was due to a failure to pick up business as expected after opening.

“[Business] hasn’t declined, it hasn’t been better or worse, but it hasn’t picked up to the level it should have.”

Lee told the Tribune he plans to reopen the restaurant if he can find a new investor.

Of course, the assertion that the restaurant closure — allegedly stemming from a lack of business — has nothing to do with the restaurant’s racist name rings false. After weeks of bad publicity over accusations of racism, is there any wonder that a fledgling restaurant would be unpopular among locals — most of whom would probably not want to frequent a restaurant that so overtly offends an entire group of people? Certainly, it probably also doesn’t help that the restaurant reportedly had poor service and poor food to boot: one reviewer noted that the decor was bizarre and the menu was totally inauthentic.

As far as I’m concerned? Good riddance to “Chop Chop Chinaman”. I’m ready to donate to the crowdfunded campaign to open a restaurant that isn’t racist in that location.

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  • Skeet Duran

    Lee went on to defend “Chinaman”, comparing it to “Englishman” or “Irishman”.

    Wrong, Lee.

    “Chinaman” is not comparable to “Englishman” or “Irishman”.

    “Chinaman” is comparable to “Englandman” or “Irelandman”.

    “Chineseman” is comparable to “Englishman” or “Irishman”.

    Therefore, nobody ever says Englandman or Irelandman.

  • hernan cortez

    “Of course, the assertion that the restaurant closure — allegedly stemming from a lack of business — has nothing to do with the restaurant’s racist name rings false. After weeks of bad publicity over accusations of racism, is there any wonder that a fledgling restaurant would be unpopular among locals — most of whom would probably not want to frequent a restaurant that so overtly offends an entire group of people? Certainly, it probably also doesn’t help that the restaurant reportedly had poor service and poor food to boot: one reviewer noted that the decor was bizarre and the menu was totally inauthentic.”

    While I usually agree with the author, I have to say the racist name IMO wasn’t a factor. Most Americans have no problem eating at a racist place. You’d be surprised there was a restaurant named chinks that has been open for 50 years on the east coast. even when I was in france, there is a popular brand/chain of vietnamese or thai (sorry I can’t tell which) restaurants all over france named chinks.

    In fact that type of publicity probably drew alot more white customers than you’d imagine. Its failure likely has to do with failure to build clients or produce good food. There are so many people competing 90% of restaurants fail. It is the most competitive business.