Just one week after Kooks Burritos in Portland, Ore., was featured in a profile for local publication Willamette Week, the pop-up Mexican food cart has closed down amid accusations that they ripped off their recipes.
Kali Wilgus and Liz “LC” Connelly, the two white women who started Kooks earlier this year, have been accused of stealing their techniques from the “tortilla ladies” of Puerto Nuevo, Mexico — because Connelly told Willamette Week that they gathered their recipes and tortilla-making processes during a holiday road-trip to the Baja California village.
“I picked the brains of every tortilla lady there in the worst broken Spanish ever, and they showed me a little of what they did,” she told the site. “They told us the basic ingredients, and we saw them moving and stretching the dough similar to how pizza makers do before rolling it out with rolling pins.”
In the profile, which first ran May 16, Connelly also claimed that, when the Mexican cooks wouldn’t give up their trade secrets, she and Wilgus “were peeking into the windows of every kitchen, totally fascinated by how easy they made it look.”
Connelly then said she used a trial-and-error process to recreate a tortilla with the same flavor and texture after returning to Portland. She and Wilgus then opened their weekend pop-up inside a taco truck on SE Cesar Estrada Chavez Boulevard, and began serving their Mexican-style tortillas filled with California-inspired ingredients.
Though the eatery had been open for several months, the owners of Kooks were only recently accused of cultural appropriation by The Portland Mercury and Mic.com based on Connelly’s revelations.
“Because of Portland’s underlying racism, the people who rightly own these traditions and cultures that exist are already treated poorly,” The Portland Mercury said, calling the closure of Kooks a “victory.”
The article continues,”These appropriating businesses are erasing and exploiting their already marginalized identities for the purpose of profit and praise.”
Social media, too, has erupted into a renewed debate over whether cooks from certain ethnic groups can or should open restaurants that “culturally appropriate” other styles of cuisine.
As Eater points out, the shop’s online presence has all but disappeared (the shop’s Facebook, Instagram and official website have been stripped of any content). Its Yelp page, however, remains online, under an “Active Cleanup Alert” intended to remove comments about its recent media attention, rather than its food or service. Despite the alert, arguments for and against Kooks have continued to pop up in the reviews.
“I love Portland, but I don’t love people who steal recipes and cooking methods without compensating for them,” wrote Bahram A. in his one-star review. “Shame. If I were this business, I’d start donating a portion of the profit to the business you stole from so they could be able to afford curtains.”
On the other hand, a Yelper named Joseph F., who had never eaten at Kooks, gave the establishment five stars in order to make up for all the negative reviews. “According to other reviewers, I can only cook, eat, and talk about Italian food, otherwise it’s cultural appropriation,” he wrote. “America is an amalgamation of people and cultures. There are plenty of atrocities happening around the world, but someone making burritos is not one of them.”
It’s unclear if Connelly or Wilgus have any plans to reopen Kooks in the near future, but as of now, Willamette Week reports that their burrito shop remains closed.