Pho Keene Say What?
January 7th, 2019 – A new Vietnamese restaurant is opening up in New Hampshire, and it’s supposed to be really great. Supposedly really freaking great. The only problem is that city officials don’t seem to be too crazy about the restaurant’s name: Pho Keene Great.
Not a fan of puns, city manager Elizabeth Dragon believes the name is offensive and was intentionally chosen to be profane. Restaurant owner Isabelle Jolie argues that it’s simply meant to be catchy and memorable with a tip of the hat to a popular menu item, pho (pronounced “fuh”). She has also taken issue with the timing of this appeal.
The pho hit the fan on December 21st when Jolie placed a “coming soon” sign in the business’ window (situated in the city of Keene, New Hampshire). With the name of the restaurant on full display, Dragon contacted Jolie requesting that the sign be removed due to its “offensive name and a contract violation as it relates to City ordinance.”
According to Jolie, the name was never a problem until it was hung in the window. She claims the “official business name” was revealed “in an e-mail that was dated, February 21, and it was ratified in our contract on April 2, 2018.”
In a press statement, Jolie went into further detail defending “Pho Keene Great” concluding that the business has no plans to change its name and remains committed to opening its doors on March 1st.
“First, let’s address the City manager’s concern about the ‘play on words.’ Yes, it is a double entendre. In the famous words of, Justice John Marshall Harlan II, “one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.” We wanted it to be all the things that a business would need to engage its audience: catchy, memorable, creative, fun and to make it a conversation piece about Vietnam’s most famous comfort food, phở. Of course, we wanted to put Keene, NH, in our marketing campaign since this was the location of our bar & restaurant. Finally, we used an adjective that best described the greatness of this delicious Vietnamese national dish, phở (pronounce it as if you were asking question, fuh? or fa?). It also described the greatness of Keene, as well.”
“The double entendre was derived at innocently and yes, there is a back story for another time. The goal was to bring people together by offering specialized cocktails and craft beers along with great French-Vietnamese food to an area that was deficient in cultural diversity. It was that simple. No offense was ever intended.”
While Jolie has put an emphasis on remaining civil and only attacking the issue, she has reached out to local residents asking for their help in pushing back on the sign restriction. She has taken to the business’ Facebook page to keep soon-to-be diners up to date on the situation and has even taken a page from the FOO playbook.
The restaurant’s page asked followers to vote whether they find the name fun or offensive.
The poll concluded that 97% of respondents voted “Not offensive. It’s fun!” while only 3% deemed it “Yes offensive. Censure.”
The battle over Pho Keene Great signage rages on with both sides claiming to want to work harmoniously together but continuing to butt heads in both the press and online. Dragon maintains that she wants the restaurant to be successful and is looking forward to meetings in February.
Jolie is still holding strong to a First Amendment argument saying a decision to ban the sign would be “discriminatory to say that a Vietnamese word, a popular food item combined with the name of our city, is considered offensive.”
Official Pho Keene Great t-shirts are available online for $24.99 but maybe you could get one for half off if the city ends up winning this funny/offensive battle.