HomeCommunity IssuesSmall businesses criticize Momofuku and David Chang for trademark attempts

Small businesses criticize Momofuku and David Chang for trademark attempts

Restauranter and founder of the Momofuku, David Chang has recently drawn widespread criticism over attempts to own the sole rights of the term “chili crunch”, with many small business owners accusing David Chang and Momofuku of trademark bullying.

On April 4, The Guardian reported that Momofuku had been sending cease and desist letters to other companies using the terms “chili crunch” and “chile crunch” on their condiment labels and is trying to trademark the terms with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

Momofuku has been producing chili crunch, a widely used spicy condiment made up of chilis and oil found in many Asian cuisines, as early as 2018, and has been selling jars of chili crunch ever since 2020. Despite its widespread success, Momofuku is far from the first Asian American food brand to bring chili crunch into the mainstream. Dozens of brands across the country have since followed suit by selling chili crunch as well, all while adding their own unique twists to the recipe.

Photo via Netflix

One of the receivers of Momofuku’s cease-and-desist letters was Michelle Tew, founder of Malaysian food brand Homiah. In an interview with The Guardian, Tew explained that Homiah’s Sambal Chili Crunch is based on her Malaysian family’s recipe. Tew took to LinkedIn, saying the letter from Momofuku “felt like a punch in the gut”, and that she “was shocked and disappointed that a well-known and respected player in the Asian food industry would legally threaten me — a one-woman show operating on a much smaller scale — from selling a product that is part of my family’s history and culture.”.

Stephen Coates, the lawyer representing Homiah, said that “The phrase that I would use to refer to Momofuku in this case, is a trademark bully” in an interview with The Guardian. Coates also mentioned that “This is a clear case of them picking on small businesses with a letter campaign hoping they’ll cave because of the financial pressure.”.

MìLà, a Seattle-based start-up specializing in Chinese soup dumplings, was another recipient of Momofuku’s cease-and-desist letters. This time, it was over MìLà’s Chili Crunch. Co-owner Caleb Wang said that “It feels like it’s not done with good intent, like, potentially boxing out smaller competitors and trying to own a space that’s tough to own”.

Other AAPI colleagues in the food industry also have called out Momofuku and Chang’s recent behavior. Eric Huang, the founder of Pecking House, said that “trademarking food is an exercise in capitalist nonsense”, in an interview with TODAY.com, further adding that “the only reason you would (trademark food) is for a soulless cash grab.”. Huang has described these events as “a disappointing turn of events for someone who so singularly represents AAPI in the food & beverage industry.”.

FLY BY JING’s founder and CEO, Jing Gao, said that the term “chile crunch” should have never been trademarked. “Just like “chili crisp”, it is a generic and descriptive term for a culturally specific condiment,”, Gao said in a recent LinkedIn post, “one that has existed in Chinese culinary culture for hundreds of years.”. Jing further went on to say that “Brands like FLY BY JING, Homiah and others exist in a traditionally marginalized space. It was not long ago that investors and retailers told us that our business was too “niche”, there was no opportunity or space for brands like ours, selling products like chili crisp.”.

Homiah, as well as other brands, were given 90 days to stop using the “chili crunch trademark”. According to The Guardian, most of the brands Momofuku contacted have accepted Momofuku’s demands, out of fear of a potential legal battle. Other companies have remained silent out fear of retaliation as well.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Worth the Time

Must Read

Regular Features


Discover more from AsAmNews

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading