Chino Latino’s racism is not palatable

Joel Helfrich

Chino Latino, the restaurant on Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood that serves eclectic, “international” fare, has done it again. The restaurant produced another insulting advertisement that is not only racist but is yet again demeaning to women. Its most recent billboard states: “Happy Hour – Cheaper than a Bangkok Brothel.”

I am consistently surprised by the number of people who like bland food and fall for chintzy restaurants. Chino Latino is no exception. When I first moved to Minneapolis and heard about Chino Latino, I naively imagined that an interracial couple that loves to cook had created something special by combining their knowledge of Chinese and Hispanic culture. Thus Chino Latino was born. So I thought.

Once I saw Chino Latino’s advertisements, I knew that my initial judgment was incorrect – extremely incorrect. Here are some examples of Chino Latino’s insidious billboards that have appeared over the last few years: “As exotic as you can get without dog”, “Sushi Loco – Biggest Insult to Japan Since the California Roll”, “Mommy, Mr. Whiskers didn’t come home last night”, and “What the third world does with the food we give them?” Another recent billboard stated, “Sushi Loco – Imagine Jennifer Lopez, Raw.” These billboards are not only offensive to the Hispanic and Asian communities, they are also offensive to women. Fortunately, the movement to fight against Chino Latino is gaining momentum. The Asian Community Online Network recently released an online petition against the restaurant, which can be found at

Still, we should be worried. When I tell my friends Chipotle is owned by McDonald’s, they are shocked and never step foot inside the place again. Last year alone, Chino Latino had more than $6 million in sales at its Uptown location. And they are gaining popularity. According to a June article in The Business Journal, “Minneapolis-based Parasole Restaurant Holdings Inc. is in lease discussions that could put the second location of its Chino Latino restaurant inside Eden Prairie Center, in part to test whether the popular Uptown eatery can travel.”

Phil Roberts, chairman and CEO of Parasole and founder of the Chino Latino concept, said, “There’s nothing like it out there.” By that did he mean there is nothing as bland or there is nothing as sexist and racist? Andrew Tellijohn, the author of The Business Journal article, said Chino Latino “has potential to be a ‘destination’ restaurant and should be appealing to suburbanites.” Indeed, everyone loves to conflate cultures and create racist advertising. The United States should brace itself for a new round of sexist and racist shenanigans as Chino Latino rolls out nationally by starting locally, in the predominately white suburb of Eden Prairie.

But we should also be ready to stop frequenting such establishments and ready to stand to protest against them. It would behoove us to also learn more about the advertising firm in charge of Chino Latino’s ad campaign, Agency Eleven. The agency received an Obie (the advertising equivalent to an Oscar) nomination for the campaign in 2001. In fact, in the year 2000 they eerily received countless awards for the Chino Latino campaign. In addition to Parasole/Chino Latino, their clients also include The McKnight Foundation and Target. We should also know that Parasole Restaurant Holdings is comprised of other favorite Minnesota restaurants (Figlio Restaurant and Bar, Manny’s Steakhouse, The Good Earth and Muffuletta Cafe) and the affiliated restaurants of Buca di Beppo and Oceanaire.

Thankfully, because of an outpouring of phone calls, Chino Latino agreed to take down the “Bangkok Brothel” billboard. As the local poet Bao Phi said, “this is great news for the community. However, this does not ensure that the racism will stop – the people at Chino Latino insist that they are not racist and state that they will continue with their ‘edgy’ line of advertising.” As Phi and local activist Juliana Pegues point out, do we “really want to deal with this every time they put up another racist billboard? Past billboards include, but are not limited to, references to Asians eating cats and dogs and INS persecution of illegal immigrants.”

Joel T. Helfrich’s columns appear alternate Tuesdays. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]