David Chang will no longer defend his ‘chili crunch’ trademark

Following a week of outcry, the celebrity chef took to his podcast to apologize after his Momofuku restaurant and packaged goods company sent cease-and-desist letters to fellow makers of the spicy-crunchy condiment.
David Chang
David Chang said he will no longer enforce Momofuku's trademark on a popular Asian condiment. | Photo courtesy: W. Scott Mitchell Photography

Recent controversy over a trademark for the name of the condiment “chili crunch” has apparently gotten too spicy for celebrity chef David Chang and his Momofuku restaurants and packaged goods products.

In a podcast Friday, Chang and Momofuku CEO Marguerite Mariscal said the company would back away from enforcing its chili crunch trademark, following outcry after Momofuku sent cease-and-desist letters to other makers of the Asian condiment several weeks ago. Momofuku began selling the sauce in 2020.

“We thought the word ‘crunch’ would separate us from other sauces,” Chang said. “We’re learning ‘crunch’ and ‘crisp’ are the same in Mandarin … In holding the term ‘crunch’ as a trademark, Momofuku can be seen as trying to own a piece of Chinese culture and heritage, which is exactly the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve.”

The issue first came to light on April 4, after The Guardian published a story headlined “Trademark bully: Momofuku turns up heat on others selling chili crunch.”

The spicy-crunchy condiment is made by manufacturers large and small, but many producers are mom-and-pop companies, many of which are of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) descent.

It didn’t take long for Momofuku’s social media accounts to be flooded with negative comments, as well as calls to boycott Chang’s restaurants and retail food products.

Fellow chili crunch producers also expressed their dismay that Chang would seek to trademark the name of such a popular and widely used condiment.

Chang and Mariscal, however, said they fear that abandoning the trademark could potentially open the door for a larger company to produce a similar product called “chili/chile crunch”

Chang said the trademark is a complicated issue, one he has come to better understand in recent days.

“I want to apologize to everyone in the AAPI community who’s been hurt or feels like I marginalized them,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that are upset.”

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