When Bodega founders Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan debuted their non-perishable pantry concept to the world, the former Googlers were not expecting it to backfire and blow up on social media the way it did.
"Weird that they're calling this heinous vending machine 'Bodega' and not 'Gentrification Box,' one user tweeted in response to a Fast Company article that lit the match, firing up bodega lovers everywhere.
Tweet by tweet, users slammed the Silicon Valley-backed startup over its name and logo.
Some called it a direct attack on immigrant businesses, many of which include mom-and-pop corner stores typically located in urban communities.
That Bodega box monstrosity is an attack on immigrant entrepreneurs of color. That kind of bs contributes to the growing racial wealth gap.— Ju-Hyun Park (@Hermit_Hwarang) September 13, 2017
Within hours, the #BodegaHive was born. Everyone from Viceland's The Kid Mero to Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda chimed in with their disapproval of the company and what it would mean for the neighborhood store owner.
"Rather than take away jobs, we hope Bodega will help create them."
In a blog post, Bodega addressed the controversy surrounding its name and the notion that they're trying to put corner stores out of business.
"Definitely not. Challenging the urban corner store is not and has never been our goal," McDonald said. "We want to bring commerce to places where commerce currently doesn’t exist. Rather than take away jobs, we hope Bodega will help create them."
What's in a name?
Besides the whole "trying to make mom-and-pop businesses obsolete" debate, 'Bodega Gate' has become a good reminder about the fine line startups often walk between what is deemed appropriate and what may be perceived as cultural appropriation.
tbh, it would've probably been fine if they just said it was a vending machine and didn't call it bodega /shrug— Nicole Lee (@nicole) September 13, 2017
Bodega said it surveyed Latin American communities to see if they felt the name was a misappropriation of the Spanish term or had negative connotations. They say 97 percent of people surveyed said "no."
Nevertheless, the Twitter community was not buying it and although the owners have since apologized and insisted they are not trying to compete with local corner stores, it still raises the question of whether a name belonging to a specific community is just a name or something more.
More than a store
Another aspect of the Bodega concept people took issue with is that the app-controlled, unmanned pantry box lacks a key element the traditional corner store offers a community.
"Real bodegas are all about human relationships within a community, having someone you know greet you and make the sandwich you like," Frank Garcia, the chairman of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, told Fast Company.
Garcia, who represents thousands of bodegas, says brick-and-mortar businesses are already suffering from increasing rent prices. He says the last thing they need is to try and compete with another Food Direct.
Nevertheless, a recent study found less than 10% of all retail transactions happen online, which means there might still be some hope left for the corner stores people hold so dear to their heart.
After all, where else are you going to get your hot coffee and warm butter rolls?