PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A menu item at a Roxborough restaurant is sparking outrage in the Asian American community. A mac and cheese dish at Lennie’s Hoagies is titled COVID Mac, and it’s described as homemade mac and cheese topped with Chinese chili garlic sauce.
“One of our followers, Tommy, had sent something over and said, ‘Hey, this is from Philly, have you heard anything about it?’ I said no but this is awful,” Jerry Won said.
A flurry of complaints about the racially insensitive menu label was brought to the attention of Won, who runs an Asian American-focused media company in Los Angeles.
He says he called the restaurant to complain.
“She said, ‘We’ve been using Chinese chili in our food for a very long time so I don’t know what the problem is.’ I said I don’t really have a problem that you’re using the ingredient but the fact that you’re calling it COVID Mac, I think it perpetuates a lot of the unfortunate racism that’s been going on,” Won said. “She said, ‘We’ve dropped the name so what’s the big deal?’ I said the big deal is that it’s already been done and the news is out there, so would you guys like to apologize for what you’ve done because it’s hurting our community right now and our community is hurt, and she refused.”
Lennie’s Hoagies has since removed the item from the menu. The restaurant was closed Friday afternoon and CBS3 has not been able to reach owners for comment.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Asian American community has been terrified by the alarming surge in anti-Asian bigotry across our nation,” Rep. Judy Chu of California said.
This comes on the heels of a national wave of anti-Asian discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A simplified system for reporting. People don’t know where to turn to. When they experience something, they don’t know where to go,” New Jersey Congressman Andy Kim said.
Kim called for a broader systematic approach to reporting these incidents during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Friday morning.
City officials say they have received several complaints about the incident, but they’re limited in any punitive actions, saying while offensive, it does not break any city laws.
City officials go on to say in a statement that reads, in part, “Racism in any form cannot be tolerated, and we hope that this business will issue an apology to the community members who have been harmed.”