Dining

Fowler & Wells Becomes Temple Court

Tom Colicchio changes the restaurant name after learning its racially biased history
Colicchio Renames Fowler & Wells
Photo: Bjorn Wallander

When Tom Colicchio originally laid plans to open a restaurant in NYC's The Beekman hotel, he wanted to harken to the past in every aspect: the decor, the menu and even the name. Hence, he decided to christen the upcoming spot Fowler & Wells after a pair of phrenologists—"scientists" who study the physical size of the skull as a believed barometer of one's character and mental capacity—who once worked in the building as a way of linking the restaurant to the space's past.

As The New York Times points out, phrenology was a practice "frequently used to justify slavery and to advance a belief in African-American inferiority." It wasn't until Pete Wells published his review and pointed out the faux pas that Colicchio and Crafted Hospitality learned the true nature of the work the restaurant's namesakes conducted. In an effort to adhere to company values, they have since changed the name to Temple Court.

While Colicchio and team jumped on the issue, another restaurant making news in Detroit for its name, Katoi, has been considerably slower on the uptake. The Metro Times points out that in Thailand, katoi or kathoey is a derogatory term used to refer to transgender people. When approached by protestors about the offensiveness of its use, the owners cited the inclusivity that they foster in their restaurant as a salve for any hurt feelings. Atmosphere aside, the restaurant name is just as damaging to the Thai and transgender communities as the N-word is to black people, for example. 

The process to change the name of an already-established business is arduous and costly—in Colicchio's case costing up to $100,000—making the decision to act a strong statement. Let's hope the team behind Katoi can realize the value of words like Temple Court has done.

Updated August 24, 2017: In response to criticism, Detroit Free Press reports that Katoi will change its name to Takoi ahead of its August 28 reopening. Owners Brad Hill and Courtney Henriette issued an apology in a prepared statement for their ignorance of the term's pejorative meaning, instead citing its more literal definition as a third gender as representing their true intentions to rebel against the gender binary. 

As far as the new moniker goes, per the restaurant's statement, "Takoi, as defined by the Urban Dictionary, is the awkward moment of interesting dance that we all do when attempting to pass another on the street. More than just a scrabble shift in letters, this pivotal moment of engagement that is Takoi describes a moment shared between strangers."

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