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Momofuku backs down in chili crunch trademark battle

Responding to accusations of bullying smaller businesses, celebrity chef David Chang and his Momofuku company have backed down on enforcing his chili crunch trademark, CBC reported.

The company had earlier sent letters demanding other mostly smaller Asian American-owned restaurants stop selling their own versions of the popular sauce.

“The past week, we have heard the feedback from our community and now understand that the term ‘chili crunch’ carries broader meaning for many,” a Momofuku spokesperson told The Washington Post. “We have no interest in ‘owning’ a culture’s terminology and we will not be enforcing the trademark going forward.” 

Michelle Tew of Homiah received one of those letters and led the charge pushing back against Momofuku’s original demands.

“I was so shocked that more than half of the companies, really all the companies except for two, which was myself and [another company that would not like to be named for fear of legal ramifications], had already responded… apologizing. And I think that’s the response they were betting on,” she told AsAmNews last week.

She described the demand letter as “a betrayal,” saying she has been a big supporter of Momofuku.

Momofuku’s said it never intended to go after Asian American small businesses.

“This situation has created a painful divide between Momofuku, the AAPI community we care deeply about, and other companies sharing grocery store shelves. But the truth is, we all want the same things: to grow, to succeed and to make America’s pantries and grocery stores a more diverse place,” it told Fortune in an emailed statement.

For Tew, the fight isn’t over. She called herself “pleased” at Momofuku’s reversal, but says it needs to go further.

“I disagree with Momofuku’s position that it needs to continue to own these marks- by retiring the mark(s) and allowing anyone to use these phrases, nobody can claim exclusive rights to these terms, even if others try to register them as trademarks,” she wrote on Instagram.

“I am hopeful that Momofuku will continue the conversation and demonstrate its commitment to the growth of AAPI cuisine and culture by withdrawing their application for the CHILE CRUNCH mark (filed March 29, 2024) and retiring their CHILE CRUNCH mark.”

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.

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