Opinion: Here’s what happens when a business or product gets named offensively.

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Courtesy of Papa Doc's Shore Club
Concert flyer from the original Papa Doc's.

Starting a business is not an easy feat. You overanalyze everything: From the people you work with to the name of your business or product­. 

Naming a business or product can be a painstaking process that can go very well, and sometimes, well, it doesn’t. In recent years, some Charlotte businesses have drawn criticism for names selected. Some have justified the names, some have kept the names and a few have opted to change the names in question.

Here are five recent name controversies in Charlotte and how they were handled:

(1) Legion Brewing Company

Courtesy of Legion Brewing Company

Legion Brewing Company, with locations in Plaza Midwood and SouthPark and a third spot planned for FreeMoreWest, is best known for staples such as Juicy Jay and the Carolina Sparkle Party. The sour gose, Juan Direction, has led to some questioning looks — not only due to the name, but also for the fact that it was released, according to a press release sent out in May, just “in time for Cinco de Mayo.”

According to a Legion spokesperson, Juan Direction’s name will be changed before its next release in 2020.

(2) Papa Doc’s Shore Club

Photo by Alex Cason Photography
The former T-Bones on the Lake location in Lake Wylie is the new home for Papa Doc’s Shore Club.

For many familiar with history, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, was a ruthless dictator of Haiti who killed his opponents and kept his country in poverty while proclaiming himself “President for Life.” 

The Bottle Cap Group owns Papa Doc’s Shore Club, a recently opened waterfront restaurant located in the space formerly occupied by T-Bones on Lake Wylie. The Bottle Cap Group owns Ink N Ivy, All American Pub, Whiskey Warehouse, Brazwells Premium Pub, Hot Taco, and Rosemont, to name a few. Not new to controversy, Bottle Cap Group stirred up some again when the name of its lakefront restaurant was announced.

When the name was first introduced, several members of the community came forward, questioning the choice of the name. When I reached out to the Bottle Cap Group, I was told the name was a way for Bottle Cap Group President and CEO Britton McCorkle to honor his stepfather and business partner, Tom Wicker, who had a dive bar on South Blvd in the 1970s called Papa Doc’s. I was also told that the original Papa Doc’s name had no meaning or story behind it.

(3) Tompkins Hall (now Optimist Hall)

When a mixed-use development in a restored textile mill in the Optimist Park neighborhood was announced in 2016, its name was Tompkins Hall. The name was to pay homage to D.A. Tompkins, who designed and built the mill. Tompkins Hall was announced as a food hall, restaurant and retail space. Anchor tenant Duke Energy will occupy the office space.

Photo by Alex Cason Photography
Optimist Hall progress

In the fall of 2018, after several of the initial tenants had been announced, a press release announced a surprising name change. The release stated that Tompkins Hall was going to change its name to Optimist Hall as a way to celebrate  “a new chapter in Charlotte’s history — a rebirth instead of looking in the rearview mirror.” The new name pays homage to its neighborhood, Optimist Park. Many were left scratching their head at the sudden name and branding change.

Upon further research, the original namesake D.A. Tompkins had a checkered and racist past, including arguing the inferiority of black workers compared to white workers. I reached out to the team behind Optimist Hall to see if the discovery of Tompkins past led to the name change, and they referred me back to the aforementioned press release.

(4) Unknown Brewing Company: Dirty Commie Heathen

Unknown Brewing has always been known for doing things their way, but they have had two beers of late that have created controversy. 

Dirty Commie Heathen, a big 12.4% Russian Imperial Stout, is named for Joseph Stalin, a communist dictator who was responsible for the murders of millions during his reign. According to the Unknown Brewing website, “When we think of Russian Imperial Stout, we think cold, dark, and filthy rich. We’re not historians but another dark, cold leader comes to mind. This beer weighs in at more than 4,000 pounds of grain and would easily tax the resources of premier Stalin.”

Although Russian/American tensions run deep, are we willing to overlook something named after a mass murderer just because it’s a witty name?

(5) Unknown Brewing Company: Elevator Lady

The second beer, released at the end of April, was a seemingly innocent sour beer named the Elevator Lady. The beer is named for Cherie Berry, the North Carolina Commissioner of Labor. Berry is mostly known for her friendly photo in elevators throughout the state and her nickname of the Elevator Lady. 

It was after the announcement of her beer that folks took to Twitter to wonder how someone with a controversial record during her 20 years in office could have a beer named in her honor. 

Such claims against Berry have included improper campaign donations and slow response to helping workers get paid on time by their employers. She announced that she would not run for reelection in 2020.  

As of publication, Unknown Brewing Company had not responded to several requests via phone and email seeking comment on both Elevator Lady and Dirty Commie Heathen.

While it is every business owner’s choice what to name their business or their product, they also have to be prepared to deal with consequences. 

8 COMMENTS

  1. Would never spend money with a business that, even ironically, featured Stalin on a product. The brewery should do its homework.

  2. Why would you want to associate your bar with the guy who got humiliated at the 8 mile rap battle by B Rabbit.

    Hopefully they at least have a cheddar bob burger on the menu.

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