West Des Moines cafe drops its racist-sounding name after online pushback

The logo for Me So Hungry in West Des Moines — image via the Me So Hungry Facebook page.

A new West Des Moines breakfast cafe will open next month, but without the racist-sounding name that caused a furor on social media. The online arguments over the name, Me So Hungry, started after The Des Moines Register published a July 13 story on the plans owners Sarah Cattoor and Ryan Greening have for the cafe. If a white couple giving their business a name that echoes a phrase used to mock and demean Asians struck the Register reporter as curious, she didn’t mention it. Social media users, however, quickly took notice.

The controversy grew larger and louder after a Saturday story on Iowa Informer, and a story published by the Huffington Post on Monday. Readers scoffed at Cattoor and Greening’s claim the name was simply part of the hip-hop atmosphere they want to create for the cafe. The couple defended the name as a light-hearted pun on the title of the 1990 2 Live Crew song, “Me So Horny.”

But the three little words in that song’s title have a long history as an anti-Asian slur, as a swarm of people on social media informed Cattoor and Greening. Responses to the name ranged from all-caps anger (“THERE ARE SO MANY LEVELS OF RACISM HERE!!!”) to a thoughtful request to reconsider it posted to Facebook on Tuesday by A Dong, a popular family-owned Vietnamese restaurant in Des Moines.

The name Me So Hungry is incredibly tasteless and the responses to criticism, tone-deaf. Whether intentional or not, their decision serves as a potent reminder of each and every single time a member of our community was belittled for being Asian.

We really hope that the proprietors reconsider, and their refusal to do so would seemingly present tacit support for a culture that continues to undermine the life and inclusiveness that Asians in this community (including us) have worked so hard to achieve.

In Friday’s Iowa Informer story, Cattoor and Greening’s response to questions about the name was a two sentence email (“Here is our full menu. Thank you.”) with a pdf of the menu attached.

The couple provided a longer response to questions from the Huffington Post, but still treated the controversy as a marketing opportunity. After claiming to be simply hip-hop fans, who didn’t consider the name racist, Cattoor and Greening told the HuffPo, “We welcome all varying views, and in fact you will likely find our views run very counter to many of the [racist] views we are being claimed to have. We encourage people to join us for breakfast and open up a productive dialogue about any issue.”

But by Wednesday afternoon, Cattoor and Greening had decided associating their cafe with anti-Asian racism might not be the best branding strategy, and announced a name change on Facebook.

We have officially renamed our new restaurant to Eggs & Jam. We apologize for offending anyone with our previously announced restaurant name. Our intent was to create buzz and interest tied to a popular ’90s song. However, it is clear we did not understand how it would be perceived, and how it could offend people in our community.

Changing the name addressed the most overt problem with the cafe, but some critics also claim a white couple opening a hip-hop themed restaurant with a menu that features a reinterpretation of a classic soul food dish, chicken and waffles, is an offensive act of cultural appropriation. As the HuffPo noted, there’s a long history of “white people appropriating hip-hop culture and so-called ethnic cuisine for their own gain.”

Cattoor and Greening didn’t address the cultural appropriation claim in their Wednesday Facebook post, which promised Eggs & Jam will have “a fun eating environment built around the music of the 1990s.”

Eggs & Jam won’t be Cattoor and Greening’s only venue in West Des Moines. The couple also owns The Keg Stand, a West Des Moines bar currently facing lawsuits from the estates of two Des Moines police officer, who were killed in a accident caused by a drunk Keg Stand patron. Both lawsuits contend a Keg Stand bartender violated Iowa law be continuing to serve the patron after he was obviously drunk, making the bar liable for the fatal March 2016 traffic accident on I-80.

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