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Call it not the fox, but rather the faux pas in the chicken coop.
An East Liberty restaurateur will change the name and the theme of a planned fried chicken restaurant just a few days after announcing his plans following a swift backlash online and on social media.
Adam Kucenic told the website Good Food Pittsburgh over the weekend of his intention to open a new spot later this year called “The Coop” on Highland Avenue in East Liberty, next to his existing restaurant Muddy Water Oyster Bar. The Coop was to have a 1990s’ hip-hop theme, which quickly drew criticism online that suggested the concept was tone deaf and playing to racial tropes in a neighborhood that for generations was predominately African-American. East Liberty has been rapidly gentrifying, forcing longtime residents out amid skyrocketing rental and real estate prices.
“All we wanted to do was open a fast, casual fried chicken restaurant — we didn’t think this would happen,” said Mr. Kucenic, who is opening it with his fiancee and business partner, Diana Strekalovskaya.
Damon Young, a Pittsburgh-based co-founder and columnist for the national website Very Smart Brothas wrote Tuesday that “ ... there’s nothing here to suggest that the owners should be given any benefit of the doubt. Hawking hipster hip-hop fried chicken in the gentrified hood isn’t a clueless misstep but an intentional and shameless cash grab,” after Ms. Strekalovskaya posted an article on social media from the conservative National Review called “The Liberal Fantasy of Cultural Appropriation.”
Mr. Kucenic conceded that probably wasn’t the best approach.
“We understand the [cultural] appropriation argument, and I understand what’s going on in East Liberty and why it’s a hot button topic. We just wanna squash it.”
So, instead the working title of the restaurant will be “Lil Chunky’s,” which was a nickname the couple has for their baby daughter.
“We were not attached to name, plus there is a food truck operating in the area with the same name [of The Coop], which we didn’t realize,” he said. “We changed the name and the vibe. It’s more about the chicken. It will be a chicken shack. The music we listen to isn’t going to dictate what the place will be.”
In addition to the fried chicken restaurant, the couple is planning a Hawaiian poke restaurant on the same block to be called “The Big Kahuna.” Mr. Kucenic worked for and was mentored by famed chef Roy Yamaguchi during five years he spent professionally in Tampa, Fla. Mr. Yamaguchi is regarded as a luminary in the field of Hawaiian cooking.
Mr. Kucenic did express some frustration that the restaurant industry is rampant with cultural appropriation and always has been, with nearly infinite ethnic-themed concepts that are not executed by proprietors of the same background.
“There is tons of it in the restaurant industry,” he said noting his own Eastern European background that he “can’t just be bound to pierogis and kraut.”
“We opened Muddy Waters and I’m certainly not Cajun. I’m from Greensburg. But I wanted to bring something cool and different into the city.”
Mr. Kucenic said that he hopes for both new restaurants to be open by year’s end. The fried chicken restaurant will take over the space currently occupied by The Twisted Frenchman in October, which will move to a building nearby.
Dan Gigler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @gigs412.