Popular Vietnamese restaurant in Toronto joins forces with broth bar amid controversy
Two Toronto businesses that have been at the centre of a debate about cultural appropriation in food are ignoring the social media trolls they say have tried to pit them against each other and are instead uniting in the name of inclusion, diversity and good food.
It all began when the owners of a new trendy athletic clothing store announced they would be ending their partnership with Ripe Nutrition, a company that had been hosting a pop-up broth bar inside the Ossington store, following an influx of complaints about cultural appropriation.
Toronto Star editor Evy Kwong was one of the first community members to draw attention to the issue, criticizing both the company's marketing tactics and the fact that it's owned by a white woman but selling traditionally Asian foods in a lengthy Twitter thread that has been liked and shared by thousands since it was posted last week.
a white owned trendy spot on ossington is selling bone broth across from golden turtle pho. also sexualizing “jerk” sauce and pho hot sauce and making “superfood dumplings” for profit? y’all im sick pic.twitter.com/0ej1bULEXl— Evy Kwong 鄺文詠 (@EVYSTADIUM) November 18, 2020
Kwong also mentioned Golden Turtle, a restaurant located across from the pop-up that has been serving authentic pho and Vietnamese cuisine since 1987 and has been struggling to survive amid the pandemic, as an example of why she believed the pop-up was culturally insensitive.
Many Toronto residents have expressed strong opinions about the controversy since news of the terminated partnership first broke, even after Ripe Nutrition founder Alexandra Baird released a statement apologizing to anyone hurt by the pop-up and promising to do better.
Community members and social media users haven't been unanimous in their opinions of the conflict, though, with some expressing anger about Baird's company and others furious that people are criticizing a small business in such a difficult financial climate.
And while Golden Turtle was not actually involved in the conflict beyond being mentioned by Kwong as an example of an authentic Vietnamese restaurant in the neighbourhood, owner Linda Nguyen said her restaurant has been the target of relentless hate over the past week, both on social media and in person.
"We felt really unsafe because [people] were just standing around in these corners and just staring directly at the restaurant," Nguyen told blogTO, explaining that some people have been loitering outside the business, and one person actually attempted to break in to the residential unit above the restaurant and rob it. "It's very scary."
Baird said she, too, has been constantly berated by angry social media trolls recently, and now the two women business owners are coming together to try and drown out the hate with a message of inclusion.
"I really think Golden Turtle and Ripe coming together is a beautiful thing," said Baird, "and they've been so kind throughout this whole thing."
"We don't need this in society and, as a community, we stand together," said Nguyen. "Division doesn't help anyone."
And while Nguyen said the only thing about Baird's business that initially gave her pause was the neon sign outside the bar broth that said "Brothel" — something that was meant to be a play on words but Baird now acknowledges isn't funny — she believes the Ripe Nutrition owner truly has learned from her mistakes and wants to do better.
The two women said they share a passion for both food and community, and they're also in similar positions as young female business owners in Toronto, so they're choosing to focus on what unites them rather than what separates them despite all the noise from the peanut gallery.
"Both our mentalities align… we're both the same," said Nguyen. "We want the best for the community, we want the best for ourselves."
As a result, the two companies are currently working on a collaboration.
"We at Golden Turtle decided that we will be collaborating with Ripe Nutrition on something very special," Nguyen said, adding that they're still figuring out the details but the goal is to release a product that is inclusive and sets a positive tone.
"We hope to release just before the holidays and we hope there will be lots of support on both sides."
Nguyen also said the two companies intend to donate some of the proceeds from the collaboration to charity.
Baird, meanwhile, said Ripe Nutrition is taking a slight step back and is still learning from what happened, but isn't going anywhere.
"We have taken a step back and we have acknowledged and we are learning. But we're not cancelled… we're not going anywhere," she said. "We're going to move forward… and we're going to continue to make good food and put good food out there and there's no shame in that."
In the meantime, Nguyen said she hopes people can learn to put aside their differences and come together.
"Food is inclusive," she said. "Food is global and people should be able to share different opinions, and cultures, and foods, together."
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