Hawaii protesters return to Chicago streets in ongoing 'aloha poke' saga

Hawaii protesters return to Chicago streets in ongoing 'aloha poke' saga

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS (HawaiiNewsNow) - Protests continue against Chicago-based Aloha Poke Company, with the latest happening Monday in the Windy City.

Demonstrators from Hawaii marched from a park through downtown Chicago and right to the front door of the chain eatery, and The Office of Hawaiian Affairs streamed parts of the protest live on Facebook.

Some held signs saying "aloha is not for sale," among other messages condemning the shop's recent actions.

The demonstrators are upset that the company ordered several eateries across the country to stop using the words "aloha" and "poke" in their name.

"I'm wondering who gave them permission to use Aloha Poke company because it certainly didn't come from us," said Vicky Holt Takamine of Ilioulaokalani Coalition.

In previous reports by Hawaii News Now, the company said it "never attempted to tell Hawaiian-owned businesses and Hawaiian natives that they cannot use the word Aloha or the word Poke."

But cease-and-desist letters sent to shops by the company's Chicago law firm, Olson and Cepuritis, Ltd. contradict those statements.

The letters say, "This demand includes removal of 'aloha' and 'aloha poke' from any company name."

Native Hawaiian restaurant owner Tasha Kahele flew to Chicago from Alaska.

She got one of the cease and desist letters and changed her restaurant's name fearing a lawsuit.

"We will pursue Aloha Poke Company and getting some sort of apology because we are asking them to rescind their trademark because at this point they have not earned the right to use the words aloha and poke," said Kahele.

Aloha Poke Company says it has two federal trademarks, but that it would never attempt to own the words aloha and poke.

"We fully support the expression of free speech and their right to protest in a peaceful manner,' said Chris Birkinshaw CEO of Aloha Poke Co.

Marchers tried go inside the Aloha Poke Co. restaurant and then meet with company officials, but say they were not allowed inside.

"We wanted to show them the work we have done and tell them we are trying to protect our language, our right, our intellectual property. They refuse to let us in so we couldn't get in," said Joe Kuhio Lewis, CEO of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement.

In a recent statement, OHA CEO Kamanaopono Crabbe said, "Aloha Poke Company's trademark represents the most reprehensible form of cultural appropriation."

OHA says another rally is scheduled for Wednesday.

This story will be updated.

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