Earlier this year, the owners of a PR firm discovered, via a social-media blowback, that calling a company “Strange Fruit PR” is a seriously bad idea, since the poem and Billie Holiday song to which the name ostensibly pays homage is about the South’s gruesome history of lynching. Now, a diner outside Boston called the Friendly Toast is facing a similar backlash after a customer pointed out that the restaurant’s “Strange Fruit” cocktail was in need of a new name. As the customer, Mita Shah Hoppenfeld, writes on her personal blog (in a story later republished by Cambridge Day), her server reacted thusly:
The short of the story - after bringing it up and asking him to take it to his manager or whomever the drink menu maker is, he repeatedly returned to our table to “discuss” the issue. It started out as him saying he had never heard the song and what a horrible tragedy it is that people continue to face racism, and then eventually morphed into telling me, “You know, we just have to see the positive light of things. The drink was supposed pay respect to a great singer, and well, there’s a positive light. Try looking at it from a positive.”
Probably not the best way to handle that. Anyway, it wasn’t long before famed writer and MIT professor Junot Díaz drew attention to the controversy on his own Facebook page, linking back to the post. Needless to say, restaurant owner Eric Goodwin has now removed the drink, and also took to Facebook to apologize, as well as to offer an explanation as to how, exactly, the drink wound up on the menu:
“Strange Fruit” had actually been on our menu for some time. When the Friendly Toast changed ownership in October of 2013, our new management inherited this recipe and title from the previous owners. We don’t know how long it had been there before that, although now we understand that it was a holdover from when many of our drinks were named after banned books.
When we reprinted the menus and reorganized our restaurants, we kept the recipe and the name only because the recipe seemed to work. At the time we were not aware of the Billie Holiday song or the banned book Strange Fruit after which the drink was named. We should have been, but we weren’t, and we’re sorry.
Though the novel in question, written in 1944, isn’t directly related to the song and poem, it’s still pretty grim. So, just as a general PSA to any and all owners going forward: Not only should you just avoid this name 100 percent of the time, you should also at least Google the names of any “quirky” menu items you may inherent to make sure you fully understand any and all potential references.