Controversial ‘Clean’ Chinese Restaurant Lucky Lee’s Shuts Down
Lucky Lee’s, the “clean” American Chinese restaurant in Greenwich Village which became a lightning rod for controversy after people decried its white owners’ marketing strategy as racist and culturally appropriative, has closed down less than a year after opening.
“It is with a heavy heart that we are shutting down our woks and ovens tonight,” the owners wrote in an Instagram post on Friday. “We have truly loved feeding and entertaining you and your families. We are very proud of our food and the space we created, but a lot needs to come together to make a restaurant work in New York City and we wish it could have succeeded as we hoped.” You can read the full statement below.
It is with a heavy heart that we are shutting down our woks and ovens tonight. We have truly loved feeding and entertaining you and your families. We are very proud of our food and the space we created, but a lot needs to come together to make a restaurant work in New York City and we wish it could have succeeded as we hoped. Thank you to our talented employees who cooked with love and enthusiasm daily. Thank you to you, our amazing customers and neighbors who dined with us and ordered delivery week after week. Thank you also to all who partnered with us to help make our vision a reality. We feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to serve you. While we are heartbroken to say goodbye to Lucky Lee’s, we know that the future still looks bright and delicious. Happy and healthy holidays to all of you. #bewell #luckyleesnyc
Nutritionist Arielle Haspel opened Lucky Lee’s in April, initially positioning her dishes as alternatives to the “oily,” “salty” cuisine that, as she put it in a since-deleted Instagram post, makes people “feel bloated and icky the next day.” There was also a decal that said ‘Wok in, Take Out’ which was spotted in the restaurant’s window.
Haspel apologized to the Times, saying, “Shame on us for not being smarter about cultural sensitivities.” But the language Haspel initially deployed to describe her vision for the restaurant—and the language used in this Instagram post in which she attempted to defend her intentions against criticism—sparked a conversation about cultural erasure, long-standing stereotypes about Chinese restaurants, and the manipulative nature of the food–wellness industry.
And then there was the food itself: in the wake of the controversy, Gothamist took a field trip to try the “gluten-free, dairy-free, wheat-free, corn-free, peanut cashew & pistachio-free” menu. It was… not good. Especially because the worst-tasting dishes were two of the most foundational elements of any Chinese meal: the rice and the Veggie Dumplings.
In October, The Villager reported that Lucky Lee’s was “flourishing” after the controversy, but clearly whatever uptick there was when the noise around the restaurant died down wasn’t enough to keep the place afloat.