Martin’s Potato Rolls are often considered the best store-bought hamburger bun, with their soft, spongy nature putting them at the top of taste tests at serious eating and Epicuriousand making the bun of choice at Shake Shack since the chain opened in 2004. But starting last week, members of the food industry urged Shake Shack and other restaurants to boycott products from Martin because of the political affiliations of the Martin family, which founded the company in 1955 and has run it ever since.
Philadelphia publication Billy Penn reported last month that Executive Chairman Jim Martin has provided more than $100,000 in support to the far-right Pennsylvania senator and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano – making up the largest single donation to Mastriano’s campaign giving this year or last year. Those ties extend further, Billy Penn has found, as Martin’s daughter and wife – who both work at the company – have also made donations to Mastriano’s campaign.
Mastriano, a Trump-backed politiciansupported anti-abortion laws without exception and negationist ideas on the two Covid vaccines and the legitimacy of the 2020 elections; in 2018, he compared appeals for gun control in the United States to Germany under Hitler. In addition to attending the January 6 rally that led to the Capitol uprising, which resulted in some calls for his resignation, Mastriano spent thousands supporters commuting at the event. In April, he campaigned at a Christian conference who peddled QAnon conspiracy theories. Although Martin’s issued a statement to Billy Penn that the company does not endorse any candidate or party, despite family advice, some restaurateurs and the buyers are considering alternatives to Martin’s popular potato rolls.
The issue of boycotts is particularly important when it comes to large restaurant chains, which not only use huge quantities of Martin’s products, but have also done the most to improve the brand’s public image. Last week, cookbook author J. Kenji López-Alt and mathematician Joe Rosenthal began leading the boycott charge via Instagram. “I will no longer buy Martin products, nor will I support any establishment that uses their buns until they change suppliers, and I urge you to do the same if you don’t want your money supporting this stuff,” López-Alt wrote, putting pressure on Shake Shack and the Philadelphia chain Federal Donuts in particular. Although Shake Shack did not provide numbers, a 2017 Eaters Report estimated that at the time the company was passing at least tens of millions of Martin buns a year.
Comments on both posts suggest other food people across the country – including Excellent chefthis is Tom Colicchio, Cherry Bomb‘s Kerry Diamond, and the chef and burger specialist Sammy Monsour – ditches Martin’s potato rolls. Zack Fernandes of the Bay Area burger pop-up Little Eagle Burger say it San Francisco Chronicle that he plans to switch suppliers or make his own buns after scouring his Martin’s supply this weekend. “In good conscience, I can no longer use Martin products for Lil’ Eagle pop-ups, especially when people I love still live in the state of Pennsylvania,” Fernandes said.
Despite these calls for action, Billy Penn reported last night that Shake Shack doesn’t seem to budge from its famous buns. The company said in a statement:
Shake Shack has always stood for equality, inclusion and belonging within our company – and we know these values are important to our guests and team members. Shake Shack does not make political donations, and the Company does not endorse political donations from individuals. With respect to the actions of individuals associated with Martin’s Company and their personal political donations – these are the choices of those individuals and do not express the values of Shake Shack. We continue to be in active conversation with Martin’s to express our concern.
Federal Donuts responded to a comment on Instagram to say the company was aware of the issue and was working on it, and reiterated to Billy Penn, “I am pleased to confirm FedNuts’ message that they have been working on this issue.” (Eater has contacted Federal Donuts, but has not yet received a response.)
However, neither Shake Shack nor Federal Donuts have, at the time of this writing, addressed Martin’s situation in social media posts. Best Shake Shack Reviews most recent post, a Pride-inspired shake promotion to benefit the Trevor Project, is replete with calls for the company to switch suppliers; as commenters point out, this kind of Corporate Pride content doesn’t square with Martin’s implied support for a candidate who shows, like the Philadelphia plaintiff described“open hostility towards the LGBTQ+ community in his own state”.
Until another bakery takes up the torch for the best hamburger bun, some cooks may be considering the possibility of perfecting the potato roll at home. From Chief Nyesha Arrington, here is a way to do it. The trade-off: more work, but a bit more control over where your money goes.
Update: June 8, 2022, 2:40 p.m.: This article has been updated to include Shake Shack’s full statement.