BANH IN THE USA

Yum Brands is dropping its bánh mì chain’s communist-chic logo

This post has been updated.

Last week, Yum Brands—the fast-food behemoth that owns KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell—opened a test location of Banh Shop in Dallas, selling Vietnamese-style street food. The hope is that bánh mì, a popular Vietnamese sandwich that’s become trendy in affluent American cities, could catch on among the wider public—giving Yum ammunition in its challenge to Chipotle for the fast-casual market.

But Banh Shop’s honey-garlic-aioli tofu barely had a chance to get off the grill before the place started drawing complaints. Members of Dallas’s Vietnamese-American community, evoking bitter wartime memories, criticized Banh Shop’s branding, saying the logo’s five-pointed red star is a communist symbol repurposed to sell fast food. “The red star in the logo is offensive to the thousands of Vietnamese Americans who have suffered from the Vietnamese Communist regime,” Nikki Duong Koenig told CultureMap Dallas, a local news site.

Koenig and others also questioned the use of the name “Saigon” (“Saigon street food” is the restaurant’s tagline), saying it makes light of the city’s capture and renaming.

In response to the criticism, Yum Brands dropped the logo yesterday. Yum’s SVP, Jonathan Blum, apologized to the president of the Vietnamese-American Community of Greater Dallas, Thanh Cung, who had started a petition for a logo change. “It was never our intent to offend anyone, but we see we have made a mistake and in hindsight, we should have recognized this logo could be offensive,” Blum wrote. The logo outside Banh Shop has been taken down, though as of this writing it’s still visible on the website.

Blum also asked for Cung’s help in vetting new branding. “We will design a new logo, and would greatly appreciate your reviewing it, along with other aspects of this restaurant, before we make a final decision,” he wrote. “We hope that you can let us know if there are any other elements in the new logo or aspects of the restaurant that could be perceived poorly.”

For what it’s worth, plenty of other bánh mì shops use “Saigon” in their names—like this popular one, which is run out of a jewelry store in Manhattan. The trouble in Banh Shop’s case might be the perception of cultural carpetbagging. Small bánh mì shops typically are run by people of Vietnamese heritage, not by multinationals based in Kentucky.

And while a five-pointed red star has been used as a communist symbol since the Russian Revolution, the similar star that appeared on the North Vietnamese flag (which was adopted in 1976 as the flag of the unified Vietnam) was yellow, not red. Ostensibly non-communist companies like Macys and San Pellegrino use red stars prominently in their logos, but of course they’re not consciously invoking a national symbol in the same way that Banh Shop is.

But to those who have reacted viscerally to the logo, the subtleties of color are irrelevant. “It’s the star from the Communist Vietnamese flag,” Toan Tran, whose parents emigrated from Vietnam, told CultureMap. “Yes, it’s a different color, but to me, the Taco Bell Corporation chose something to represent the country of Vietnam that I personally think is absolutely the wrong choice.”

[September 19, 2014, 4:20am EDT: This post was updated after Yum Brands dropped Banh Shop’s logo.]

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