Restaurant’s ‘Pho Keene Great’ name being met with opposition by city government

Restaurant’s ‘Pho Keene Great’ name being met with opposition by city government
Pho, a Vietnamese soup and noodle dish, is pronounced "fuh." (AP Photo/Larry Crowe)

(Gray News) – A New Hampshire Vietnamese restaurant’s effing great name isn’t so hot with the city government.

Pho Keene Great, which is next to city hall, has already removed its sign, the Keene Sentinel newspaper reported last month, after its owner, Isabelle Jolie, was asked to by city officials concerned about the “appropriateness of the ‘intended play on words’ on a city building.”

Pho, pronounced “fuh,” is a Vietnamese soup and noodles dish. Its name lends itself to one notably obvious pun, as evidenced by the number of “Pho King” restaurants around the country.

In New Hampshire, though, the battle over the name wasn’t settled by removing the sign.

The restaurant issued a press release over the weekend defending the name, citing a Supreme Court justice.

“Yes, it’s a double entendre. In the famous words of Justice John Marshall II, ‘One man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric,’” Jolie wrote in the release. “We wanted it to be all of the things that a business would need to engage its audience: catchy, memorable, creative, fun and to make it a conversation piece about Vietnam’s most famous comfort food, pho.”

A city councilmember, Randy Filiault, then claimed on Facebook that the restaurant agreed to change its name when it signed a lease for the space next to city hall.

“The city manager DID agree to lease the space and was enthusiastic about this restaurant opening, otherwise she wouldn’t have agreed to lease it. One of the conditions was that a different name would be used,” he wrote, according to a screengrab posted by the restaurant.

Jolie disputed that in yet another post on Sunday. Her post said the name was submitted to the city manager last February and a contract with the city, which included the name, was ratified last April.

“We wish to have a harmonious relationship with the City, our landlords, as we are eager to be a contributing factor to the success of Keene,” the post said. “However, it doesn’t help that you are exacerbating this issue by disseminating false information.”

Pho Keene Great Bar & Restaurant is a business and we have no political affiliations and we welcome everyone. We want...

Posted by Pho Keene Great on Sunday, January 6, 2019

It also countered a claim by Filiault that Jolie was trying to make a case for the name through a media campaign.

Speaking to The Sentinel newspaper last month, the city manager, Elizabeth Dragon, indicated the objection, at least at that time, was limited to signage.

“I’m personally looking forward to frequenting her restaurant, but I do want to have a conversation with her about the sign and make sure that we are all comfortable moving forward,” she said.

As of now, the restaurant appears intent on keeping the name.

“What do we serve? Where do we serve it? How does it taste? The answer is Pho Keene Great,” its website reads.

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