Business Branding

Does “Tokyo Joe’s” in Denver, Colorado Have Anything to Do With Tokyo (Japan) or Japanese Food?

Tokyo Joe’s is doing “ching chong food,” which lumps all types of Asian food together because Asians are all the same to them based on their menu, and they have no clue what Japanese food is.

Main image courtesy of Tokyo Joe’s

Do you know who does not get all lumped together? Europeans don’t because, even in an Olive Garden, you will not get an outright mix of German, French, Russian, Spanish, or Swedish food marketed as Italian because nobody would tolerate lumping all Europeans together as a Sicily Joe’s.

The food at Tokyo Joe’s is a blend of Vietnamese, Thai, and other Asian influences, yet it is marketed as “Japanese” (can you get any dumber? I think so, just keep reading).

If you want a quick read of this dumb brand, read these summaries denoted by the icon.

Well, unfortunately that is the typical M.O. (modus operandi) of most of the businesses in Colorado when it comes to Asian food/people because places like Tokyo Joe’s, a Colorado owned, Colorado grown business can’t help but use Japanese culture to lump all Asians together as one homogenous group to make a buck.

Photo Description: three bowls, one large red bowl with two smaller bowls filled with something. The large bowl has cucumber sticking out of the top with ginger and a bunch of other ingredients in it.
Straaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaight outta of Tokyo, Colorado, the “Tombo Bowl.” Image courtesy of Tokyo Joe’s.

I Can’t Stand Overzealous SJW and Their Cultural Appropriation Attacks

I can’t stand it because we live in a moronic age and time of cancel culture, and if you don’t agree, think like us, or do as we expect you to be, you are canceled (the snowflakes of the world and who participation trophies are for).

Cultural appropriation, at times also phrased cultural misappropriation, is the adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity. This can be controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate from disadvantaged minority cultures.

Although there are instances when it comes to people/businesses that are being d’bags, such as when Kim Kardashian and Kanye West went and tried to trademark “Kimono” to sell underwear that was called kimonosLuckily due to public outcry, she decided on the name “Skims” instead, which I think is a lot better because it is also a play off Kim’s name, plus “skin.”

Ken Eto “Tokyo Joe” was was the only Japanese American accepted into the Italian mafia. He was a high-ranking mafioso due to his gambling rings, and spent some time in Denver working at a casino called the Oriental Club.

Who thought it was cool to name it after this dude?

Unfortunately, the food industry hasn’t gotten the message and as of now, a lot of restaurants and food producers get free reign to ching chong it up. Well, not total free reign because “Trader Joe’s” did get called out for Trader Juan which in that case, I see it as a non-issue, but like I said, overzealous social justice warriors and outrage culture.

Food Is a Gateway to Experiencing Culture

Walk into an Italian restaurant, and most people would hope to have Italians operating the business because it would be an opportunity to experience the country and culture of the people. If not, you would hope the proprietor, regardless of who they are, would carry over the flavors/dishes and the culture of the country that they are representing.

If you can not travel to the country, at least you can experience part of the culture through the food and your stomach (like eating Taco Bell, you can taste the segregation of Southern California in the 60’s).

Today, Taco Bell/Mazda HQ is located in Irvine (we used to have Cars and Coffee in the parking lot).

Although this is Muuurica where there is a particular segment of the population that just does not care about culture, and I get it because a business is all about making money by any means necessary for some.

Not to mention a large segment of the population does not see themselves as Swedish, Italian, or German but identify by color/”white,” so when it comes to Asians, they project their ethnic ambiguity.

Photo Description: is of a map of every Asian country. Each country is colored to show the distinct borders of China, India, Mongolia, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, to the Philippines.
As you can see, this map is not one giant YELLOW outline because it represents the different countries in Asia (48 in total). Image courtesy of a site where the vector art is actually FREE, FreePik (they did misspell “Philippines”).

Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, to Korean, and We Do Not Go By One Color Yet

I don’t know about you, but most of my Asian friends do not go around calling ourselves “yellow,” and we typically identify ourselves by our ethnicity of Japanese, Taiwanese, Thai, Laos, to Vietnamese, or by our race, Asian.

Asia is just as diverse as Europe, and even if some dishes may be similar, they are as unique as German spätzle to an Italian pasta/gnocchi.

Yet to Tokyo Joe’s it is all “ching chong” food.

The Menu at Tokyo Joe’s

Having a business and a brand such as this company, your growth is largely dependent upon how uncultured your market is because just look at the menu, it reminds me of King of the Hill where Hank meets Kahn for the first time.

  • Hank Hill: So are you Chinese or Japanese?
  • Kahn Souphanousinphone: I live in California last twenty year, but, ah… first come from Laos.
  • Hank Hill: Huh?
  • Kahn Souphanousinphone: Laos. We Laotian.
  • Bill Dauterive: The ocean? What ocean?
  • Kahn Souphanousinphone: We are Laotian–from Laos, stupid! It’s a landlocked country in southeast Asia. It’s between Vietnam and Thailand, OK? Population 4.7 million.
  • Hank ponders this for a few seconds.
  • Hank Hill: So are you Chinese or Japanese?
  • Kahn Souphanousinphone: [groans]

The menu lumps Japanese, Japanese American, and SE Asian food all together, and they have no problem using as many Japanese words as possible (yakitori, sunomono, teriyaki, gyoza, sushi) to imply that you are eating Japanese food, but they make absolutely no mention of all the use of Thai or Vietnamese influences (that right there is cultural appropriation at the most eff’d up level because they pay no respect to the real cultures being appropriated, and they cite it as solely Japanese).

Small Bites

  • Spring Rolls (Vietnamese): based upon the use of chilled rice paper, it’s a spring/summer roll (gỏi cuốn).
  • Peanut sauce (SE Asian): yea, the same pairing as above with spring rolls.

It would be hard or next to impossible to say any of the Tokyo Joe’s menu is Japanese. It is far from it, yet they are not marketing their business as Thai or Vietnamese, why is that?

In Colorado, everything is marketed as Japanese.

Bowls, sushi, to poke

  • Teriyaki (Japanese American): hey, who doesn’t like teriyaki which is a basting sauce in Japan, but got a lot sweeter for us Muricans.
  • Sushi (American): all fusion rolls that did not originate out of Tokyo or all of Japan, absolutely none of them.
  • Poke (Hawaiian): well this is far from Hawaiian poke, and I consider this as mainland “pooky” which just uses the name poke, and I wonder what ingredients their “traditional hawaiian” dressing consists of.
  • Red dragon (SE Asian): Japanese don’t do heat, unless you consider shichimi togarashi as heat.
  • Green dragon (SE Asian): good luck finding cilantro or serrano peppers in Japanese food.
  • Green curry (Thai/SE Asian): lime and coconut flavor are common in Thai food, and you will not find it in Japanese food.
Photo Description: a bowl of food by Tokyo Joe's which looks like teriyaki sauce, broccoli, avocado, bell peppers, and other ingredients.
This is a uniquely Colorado dish, and it is not Japanese. Image by Daniel Moskowitz.


  • Yakitori (SE Asian): yea, yakitori means “grilled chicken” in Japanese, but the sauce TJ’s is using is not yakitori tare at all, and they are doing once again a SE Asian sauce.
  • Oyako (American): I suppose they are trying to imply “oyako” (parent and child) “don” (donburi means in a bowl) which is an egg and chicken dish (not a sauce) over rice, but they are saying it is a sauce which uses fish and a beef base (why not at the very least chicken).
  • Sweet lemongrass aioli sauce (SE Asian): like the rest of the menu, the majority of the menu cannot resist from being SE Asian and at this point, they should just do SE Asian food (Vietnamese, Malaysian, Filipino, Thai, to Singaporean).
  • Peanut (SE Asian): Not a surprise by now, but the majority of the sauces and flavorings are Thai/SE Asian.
  • Tamari (American): “wheat-free tamari” is redundant because tamari is wheat-free soy sauce. Although if you love the soy sauce at a sushi bar, wheat is what makes Japanese soy sauce distinctly Japanese. Chinese and other soy sauces typically do not use wheat, and they do not have the umami that a Japanese soy sauce would have. I also have it classified as American because they added ingredients (sugar, cornstarch, ginger, garlic) to their “tamari.”
  • Joe’s BBQ: I’ve never had it, and I would have to see the ingredients but I doubt it is anything close to being Japanese.
  • Yellow curry (Thai/SE Asian): “tropical hint.” Are they talking about Okinawa? What part of Tokyo is tropical? (they think Vietnam and Thailand is part of Tokyo).

Places like Tokyo Joe’s are branded as “Tokyo” (Japanese) would never make it in coastal cities such as Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco because diners exposed to more cultural/ethnic diversity would be like WTF is this (it’s con’fusion food)?

Photo Description: Tokyo Joe's Banh Mi bowl. A red bowl is depicted, shot from directly above, in the bowl what looks to be a poached egg, pickled veggies, avocado, chopped greens, and chicken.
Banh” in Vietnamese means “bread,” so where is the bread? What next, a pita or a burrito bowl? Via Tokyo Joe’s Facebook/Twitter.

Quit marketing everything under the guise of being Japanese and just call yourself “Asian Joe’s.”

You’re not Mimi Miyagi, and this isn’t the 80’s, and I expect more out of a Colorado company.

I expect that because Colorado has been one of the most progressive states in the country in terms of laws and acceptance of women’s rights, immigration, to the legalization of marijuana.

So seeing businesses in 2020 still act like it’s 1984 (or 1996) is ridiculous because the name Long Duk Dong and the character are as Japanese as the Tokyo Joe’s brand.

This has got to be the worst brand I have seen in Colorado.

I know how people like Governor Ralph L. Carr had impacted this state and my family, and as a 4th generation Japanese American and Coloradan whose grandfather helped feed this state through farming, food and culture are near and dear to my heart.

So seeing businesses in 2020 still act like it’s 1984 (or 1996) is ridiculous because the name Long Dong Duck and the character are as Japanese as Tokyo Joe’s brand.

Tokyo Joe’s

Gridiron Capital, LLC
26 locations throughout the Denver metro area.
Larry Leith, Founder

1 comment

  1. Nice write up. Yeah, up here in Washington there’s a food spot (I only see it in the malls) that’s called “Thai’s Kitchen and when I went up to it for the first time to order some Pad Thai, it was your typical American Chinese food items. I was like, what the heck?!?!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: