Just in time for its 11th anniversary, Michigan-based craft beer bar HopCat rolled out a new name for its award-winning Crack Fries on Jan. 14. The newly deemed “Cosmik Fries” were the center of anniversary celebrations Saturday, during which free fries and a fries eating contest were offered at each HopCat location.
According to Joe Sonheim, director of marketing for BarFly Ventures, the decision to change the name was made in early December by executives at BarFly Ventures, the parent company of HopCat. Although the name Crack Fries was originally meant to be clever, executives realized it could be insensitive towards the crack epidemic and drug addiction, Sonheim explained.
“When we started the company, ‘crack fries’ was certainly meant to be a tongue-in-cheek reference,” Sonheim said. “But as the company grew and expanded into different markets, such as Detroit, we’ve had to figure out who we are in the community. We’ve gotten good feedback from the community … based on that feedback, we decided it was the right thing to do to change the name.”
The new name for the signature side — Cosmik Fries — is inspired by the song “Cosmik Debris” by Frank Zappa, one of founder Mark Sellers’s favorite musicians. Featuring lyrics about a mystery man selling a magical substance made “with the oil of Aphrodite” and “the dust of the Grand Wazoo,” he says the song, and thus the new name, is more reflective of HopCat’s image.
“A big part of HopCat is our relationship to music,” Sonheim said. “(The song “Cosmik Debris”) is a little weird, a little out there, definitely fun and we thought it was a pretty good tie-in to who we are. It speaks to the culture and vibe of our HopCat restaurant.”
The name change has received much attention, even receiving coverage by national platforms like Fox News. Online reactions to the new name have been mixed.
Some customers expressed the move conforms to a trend of political correctness. In one tweet which has been liked by 500 people and retweeted 48 times at the time of publication, Liv Brosofske, a student at Western Michigan University, claimed the name change is another example of oversensitivity.
“hopcat is changing the name of their crack fries because of the crack epidemic in America,” Brosofske wrote. “y’all are getting way too soft [sic].”
However, others on social media applauded HopCat and expressed their belief the original name was insensitive. David Sampson, CEO of Mariners Inn, a substance abuse treatment and recovery center in southeast Michigan, published an editorial representing Mariners Inn in the Detroit Free Press supporting the change.
“Comparing a delicious food item with an illicit substance that is responsible for devastating our communities is objectively hurtful,” Sampson wrote in the editorial. “While I was not surprised to see negative social media commentary in response to HopCat’s decision, I was certainly disappointed that a company would receive such backlash over a move that was intended to create inclusion. The perspective that people are being too sensitive, too politically correct or that they are “just fries” is a surface-level look at a disease that has destroyed the lives of millions.”
While eating lunch at HopCat Ann Arbor with family, LSA freshman Jake Moody, kicker on the University of Michigan football team, said he comes to HopCat particularly for the fries. While he thinks the name change is unnecessary, he does not mind as long as the fries themselves do not change.
“I don’t really think the (name change) was needed, but as long as everybody’s happy and the fries stay the same, I’m okay with it,” Moody said.
Regardless of the name change, Cosmik Fries remain as popular as ever. According to Emmeline Jurek, general manager of HopCat Ann Arbor, 202 orders of Cosmik Fries were served to over 900 customers on Saturday at the Ann Arbor location in celebration of HopCat’s 11th anniversary, equaling to about 50 pounds of free fries. This does not include the fries set aside for the annual fries eating contest, which Jurek estimates contribute roughly another 20 pounds.
A tradition since HopCat’s first anniversary, the fries eating contest collected $5 from each competitor, which was then matched by HopCat for donation to a charity chosen by each HopCat location. According to Jurek, 12 people competed in the Ann Arbor contest, resulting in $120 raised for the Humane Society of Huron Valley.
Plymouth resident Matthew Holowicki won the contest, eating 3.4 pounds of Cosmik Fries in six minutes. He received a HopCat prize package valued at $500 and will advance to compete for the championship against winners from other HopCat locations at the 22nd Annual Michigan Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti in July. He has won the last four HopCat Ann Arbor fries eating contests and has been the overall champion twice.
“(Cosmik Fries) are excellent, and there’s a reason they’re so popular,” Holowicki said. “Eating contests are better when you’re eating good food. When they’re tasty, it’s a lot easier to get it down … Though if they want to call them Cosmik Fries, that’s fine, but they’re always going to be Crack Fries to me.”
Jurek said there have been comments from customers about the transition from Crack Fries to Cosmik Fries. She said the change is in line with HopCat ideals.
“When a HopCat opens in a community, part of our mission is to enrich that community,” Jurek said. “We’re a ‘people first’ company. That shows in the way that we serve, in the way that we buy beer, the breweries that we promote, the ideals that we promote. The fact that we made the (name) change based on our ‘people first’ mentality is what we’re sticking to, which to us just embodies more of who we are.”
Each HopCat restaurant is unique depending on the city that it is in, Jurek explained. HopCat Ann Arbor, for example, focuses on hiring local and supporting local charities. This investment in the community, according to Jurek, is part of what contributes to HopCat’s long-standing success.
“I think we vibe really well with the funky, diverse, open-minded part of Ann Arbor,” Jurek said. “We’re a chain because people like us, not because we’re this conglomerate that’s going to take over the city.”