Just shortly after WWeek announced Kooks Burritos — a small burrito pop-up with events at the Tight Tacos food cart in Southeast — the operation has shuttered and deleted much of its online presence. The closure coincides with public outrage at what some are calling the restaurant’s “appropriation” of another culture’s “intellectual property.”
Speaking with WWeek, Kooks Burritos owners Kali Wilgus and Liz "LC" Connelly said they developed their menus in part by picking “the brains of every tortilla lady there [Puerto Nuevo, Mexico] in the worst broken Spanish ever,” and this description of its research practices as well as other comments within the article spurred editorials and debates across the internet.
The Mic news website bought national attention to Kooks Burritos with its coverage, titled, “These white cooks bragged about stealing recipes from Mexico to start a Portland business.” It reads, “The problem, of course, is that it's unclear whether the Mexican women who handed over their recipes ever got anything in return.”
Today, the Merc released its coverage, beginning with the claim, “Portland has an appropriation problem.” The article continues:
Week after week people of color in Portland bear witness to the hijacking of their cultures. Several of the most successful businesses in this town have been birthed as a result of curious white people going to a foreign country. Now don’t get me wrong: cultural customs are meant to be shared. However, that’s not what happens in this city.
And a spreadsheet featuring “white-owned appropriative restaurants” in Portland has also emerged. It includes several of the most popular restaurants in the city, with recommendations for nearby alternatives owned by people of color.
In recent years, the topic of cultural appropriation in food has been widely discussed in America, and the latest development shows some Portland restaurateurs and local residents continue to be at odds. The Kooks Burritos coverage by WWeek now has nearly 500 comments, and there are few signs a consensus will be reached.
- Kooks Serves Pop-Up Breakfast Burritos With Handmade Tortillas Out of a Food Cart on Cesar Chavez [WWeek]
- These white cooks bragged about stealing recipes from Mexico to start a Portland business. [Mic]
- This Week in Appropriation: Kooks Burritos and ‘Willamette Week’ [Merc]
- (Alternatives To) White-Owned Appropriative Restaurants in Portland [Google Doc]