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David Chang’s Momofuku is waging a chili crunch war

Things are heating up.

Momofuku’s David Chang, the New York chef once known for a punk rock ethos that upended the city’s white table cloth-dining scene, is now accused of being a “bully” who targets mom-and-pop food purveyors.

Chang’s Momofuku, which has a big business selling pantry items — including a spicy oil with bits of seeds and spices called “Chili Crunch” that it began selling widely in 2020 — is going after businesses that sell similar hot sauces.

“It felt like a punch in the gut,” said Michelle Tew, who received a cease-and-desist letter alleging her company’s products were infringing upon Momofuku’s trademark rights.

The 32-year-old Manhattanville resident is the owner and sole full-time employee of Homiah, a New York-based business selling Malaysian foodstuffs, including a Sambal Chili Crunch based on an old family recipe.

Michelle Tew was shocked and saddened to get a cease-and-desist letter from Momofuku.

MomoIP LLC — an affiliate for Momofuku, which did not respond to requests for comment — currently has a trademark for the term “chile crunch” and recently filed to trademark an alternative spelling, “chili crunch.”

The moves have incensed the food world, with many insisting the phrases are nothing more than a generic descriptor for a common Asian condiment

“It’s like trying to own ‘barbecue sauce’ or ‘mustard,’” Brooklyn-based Yun Hai Taiwanese Pantry posted on Instagram. “It’s not a secret sauce.”

The Asian grocer stocks a whole wall of chili crunch and crisp products but has said it will stop selling Momofuku’s.

MìLà, a Seattle-based outfit known for its soup dumplings, received a cease-and-desist letter for i

Hew initially thought she was alone in getting the letter but soon realized that “at minimum five other companies” received similar letters.

MìLà, a Seattle-based outfit known for its soup dumplings and founded by a husband-and-wife team, was one of them. 

“It’s particularly disappointing because the AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] community is a small, collaborative space and there’s a sort of ‘we’re all in this together’ mentality,’” co-founder Caleb Wang told The Post.

Asian condiments with a spicy oil and a crunchy element have long been popular.

Lao Gan Ma is considered the OG when it comes to chili crisp or chili crunch condiments. Amazon

Lao Gan Ma, a classic brand from Guizhou, China, dates back to 1984 and purports to have sold more than 1.3 million bottles of its “spicy chili crisp,” around the world.

Fly by Jing, which calls itself a “premium chili crisp brand,” launched in 2018 and now has a retail presence in over 5,000 stores, including Target, Wegmans and Costco.

“Top Chef” 2008 winner Stephanie Izard, who has a thriving restaurant empire in Chicago and Los Angeles called, previously sold a condiment labeled “Chili Crunch” under her This Little Goat label. 

At some point, the product was renamed “The Crunch.” It’s not clear if the change was related to Momofuku, and This Little Goat did not respond to a request for comment.

This Little Goat recently changed the label on its spicy, crunchy condiment.

Tew, who has had to spend thousands of dollars on legal counsel to respond to the letter, is currently waiting things out, hoping that the “chili crunch” trademark won’t go through or Chang will change his mind.

Her lawyer, Stephen Coates, has dubbed Momofuku a “trademark bully.”

A pricey legal battle wouldn’t hurt Momofuku much, Hew said, but it would devastate her company.

“There’s a power imbalance,” she said. “If we had to change our packaging, we would lose important business worth tens of thousands. And if we were sued and had to go to court, it would be in the hundreds of thousands.”

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