Cambridge restaurant pulls ‘Strange Fruit’ drink, apologizes
The Friendly Toast in Cambridge has made a public apology and says it will change its menu after a patron inquired about why a drink at the restaurant was named Strange Fruit.
Mita Shah Hoppenfeld, a medical student at Boston University, wrote on her blog, The Clumsy Cook, that during a recent visit to the Kendall Square restaurant, she noticed the drink and asked her server why a cocktail would be named after a Billie Holiday song about lynching and racism.
“I brought it up to our waiter saying, the drink name is offensive as the song is about black bodies swinging from trees (the strange fruit) and naming a drink after it is repackaging domestic terrorism into a pretty picture.” Hoppenfeld went on to write that her server responded by saying that the drink name should be seen in a “positive light.”
“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 to pay respect to a great singer, and well, there’s a positive light.’ . . . Oh yes, I should just see things in a positive light. How could I forget?’ ” Hoppenfeld wrote on the blog.
Eric Goodwin, who owns the Friendly Toast, put out a statement Tuesday apologizing for the drink name. He also told us that he would have taken it off the menu when he bought the restaurant more than a year ago if he had known what the name meant.
“The drink is no longer on the menu, and the person who originally devised the name has been gone for a long time now. We can’t speak for their intentions when naming the drink. We don’t know if they were trying to be edgy or in-your-face or flat-out racist. We think they were just going off of a list of banned books, but we don’t know. We can speak for our intentions, though. We apologize that our staff defended its being on the menu to Ms. Hoppenfeld. I’m sure they never expected to have to address the implications of the name of anything on the menu,” Goodwin said in a note that he planned to post on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
After Hoppenfeld shared her story on her blog and in the Cambridge Day, it went viral, even catching the attention of MIT professor and Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Diaz, who posted it on his Facebook page Tuesday. By Tuesday afternoon, Friendly Toast employee Dana Murray confirmed that the drink would be taken off the menu. She also told us that the drink was not named after the Holiday song, but after the 1944 book “Strange Fruit” by Lillian Smith, which is about an interracial relationship in a Southern town. She said a former employee had come up with the drink list.
Hoppenfeld told us Tuesday that she was pleased that the menu would be changed — and by all of the discussion.