Friday, 11 January 2008

Fat Buddha upset City chiefs

Chinese chef Eddie Fung has upset council mandarins – after naming his restaurant the Fat Buddha. We couldn't resist retelling the story. You decide who had a point here!
Durham City Council’s cultural gurus asked his company to change the name - after claiming it would offend Buddhists.
But Eddie, who was born in Hong Kong and is a Buddhist, said the complaint was crackers.
He said: “No Buddhist is going to be offending by the term Fat Buddha.
“The Fat Buddha is a sign of health and happiness back in China.”
Eddie, 38, came to Britain when he was just 17 and built up a chain of restaurants in Northern Ireland.
He opened his first Fat Buddha restaurant in Belfast, offering Chinese and other Asian food, without anyone complaining about the name.
But he ran into big trouble as he prepared to open a similar restaurant in Durham.
Eddie’s company, Utopian Leisure, wanted to nvest £1.3 million in the development, which would employ around 60 people.
But the entrepreneur was surprised when his company received a letter from Durham City Council.
Tracey Ingle, Head of Cultural Services, claimed: “The unit itself is in a very prominent position and will be seen by thousands of people crossing the A690 daily.
“The name of your restaurant implies an eastern offer as it is associated with a religion that grew from Asian countries.
“It does not, however, offer vegetarian cuisine solely, nor does it refer to Buddhist belief systems in either its operation or offer.
“The name is therefore an evocative tag line that does not clearly brand your exciting restaurant offer and, I have to say, in my view, the name is provocative.
“To use the name of a major religion’s deity in your restaurant brand runs contrary to this city’s reputation as a place of equality and respect for other’s views and religious beliefs.”
But Eddie said: “I was very surprised when I was told about the complaint.
“I don’t want to offend anyone, let alone other Buddhists. I just want to run a restaurant.
“The Fat Buddha has been very successful in Belfast. We are serving more than 2,000 meals each week.
“After Durham, we want to open in Newcastle, Leeds, York and Harrogate. We are also looking at opening Little Fat Buddha takeaways.
“Hopefully, in three years time we will have about a dozen and in five years we will have around two dozen across the country.”
Buddhism was founded 2,500 years ago in India, by Siddhattha Gotama, who was later to be called Buddha.
There are now around 350 million Buddhists in the world, including more than 150,000 in Britain.
The Buddha is not considered a god by his followers and is not worshipped.
Chueh Yann, Director of the Fo Guang Buddhist Temple in London, said: “Buddhists are not easily-offended.
“The Fat Buddha that you often see is not the real Buddha. He is a Chinese tradition.
“In China, fat symbolizes happiness. If you see someone who is fat, it just means they have got enough to eat.”
A spokesman for the Buddhist Society said: “Buddhists don’t take offence because it doesn’t follow Buddhist teachings.
“Also, Buddhists regard the Fat Buddha as lucky. He is a bit like a Friar Tuck figure.”
When questioned, Miss Ingle said she stood by her comments in the letter, although she admitted the council was powerless to remove the sign.
She said: “I think it has an impact on the reputation of the city.
“The particular restaurant is in a very prominent position and I asked them to consider changing the name.
“I don’t want this completely blown out of proportion. I have made my views clear and we are where we are.
“We are always willing to continue to talk to the business owner about the possibility of changing the name.”
Miss Ingle declined to give details of her salary, although it is believed to be around £40,000.

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