Martin’s potato rolls face boycott calls over owner’s politics

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From the Middle East to the Midwest, thousands of restaurants rely on the breads and buns produced by Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe, a family-owned wholesaler based in Pennsylvania whose pillowy potato rolls have become the preferred sandwich base for countless chefs.

Big national chains such as Shake Shack and the Hard Rock Cafe use products from Martin’s, according to the company’s own accounting. So do smaller, regional chains such as Clyde’s and Good Stuff Eatery in the Mid-Atlantic. So do celebrated smokehouses such as Franklin Barbecue in Austin and Bludso’s Bar & Cue in Los Angeles.

But whether big or small, restaurant owners were being asked to surrender their allegiance to Martin’s widely popular products after recent reports showed the family behind the company is a supporter, financially and otherwise, of Doug Mastriano, the controversial Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania.

In April, ahead of the Republican primaries in Pennsylvania, Spotlight PA reported that James Martin, the executive chair and former president of Martin’s, contributed $110,000 to Mastriano’s gubernatorial campaign. A month later, Billy Penn, a news site associated with public radio station WHYY-FM, reported that the executive’s wife and daughter also contributed to Mastriano’s campaign.

A first-term state senator and retired Army colonel, Mastriano won his primary in May, beating out eight other candidates for the GOP nomination. Endorsed by former president Donald Trump, Mastriano has embraced the baseless claims that Trump won the 2020 presidential election, including the important swing state of Pennsylvania, which Joe Biden narrowly won.

Mastriano has been a leader in trying to overturn the presidential election results in Pennsylvania. He helped to commission an unauthorized audit of voting machines in rural Fulton County, according to reporting from The Washington Post. He also allegedly urged fellow state lawmakers to throw out Pennsylvania’s election results and name their own winner, a likely unconstitutional plan, according to The Post’s Amber Phillips.

Mastriano not only attended the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021, but also reportedly spent thousands of dollars to rent charter buses to take people to the rally, which ended with Trump supporters storming the Capitol in what a House panel this week called an “attempted coup.” The insurrection led to the death of five people. Mastriano said he never entered the Capitol or crossed police lines, though video sleuths turned up evidence that seemed to suggest otherwise.

In February, the House committee investigating the insurrection subpoenaed Mastriano to appear for an interview. He reportedly agreed to it and turned over documents.

Mastriano’s hard-right politics go beyond denying the results of the presidential election. He supports a total ban on abortion, even when the life of the woman is at risk. He has promoted baseless QAnon conspiracy theories. After the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Tex., which left 19 children and two teachers dead, Mastriano retweeted a video clip of himself comparing gun control to Nazism.

These policies and actions, among other things, were more than enough for some to call for a boycott of Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe, whose history can be traced back to Pennsylvania Dutch country in 1955. Among the prominent boycott advocates is the author and chef J. Kenji López-Alt.

“I will not be buying any more Martin’s products, nor will I support any establishment that uses their buns until they change suppliers, and I’d urge you to do the same if you don’t want your dollars supporting this stuff,” López-Alt wrote on Instagram.

Martin’s did not respond to a request for comment, but on May 17, the day of the Pennsylvania primary, the company tweeted: “Just like our country as a whole, Martin’s company is made up of a diverse group of employees and stockholders, all of whom are free to support and vote for whomever they choose. Martin’s as a company does not donate to any particular political candidate or party, but we encourage and celebrate the opportunity we all have to vote and share in the election process.”

López-Alt’s post generated more than 25,000 likes and more than a few people who said they would join the boycott, despite their love for Martin’s rolls. Among the apparent supporters was chef and activist Tom Colicchio, whose verified account left this message on López-Alt’s page: “I bought my last last night.”

When reached via text to confirm that it was him who left the message, Colicchio wrote back, “It wasn’t.” He didn’t respond to a call for further clarification.

López-Alt declined to comment further.

Soleil Ho, restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, reported that some Bay Area chefs were already hunting for substitutions for their Martin’s products.

The Post tried reaching several chefs, pit masters and publicists for chains that, according to Martin’s site, buy from the wholesaler. Among those who didn’t return our calls or texts for comment: Aaron Franklin with Franklin Barbecue, Kevin Bludso with Bludso’s Bar & Cue, David Chang with Fuku and the media relations people for the Clyde’s Restaurant Group and the Hard Rock Cafe.

Their reluctance to talk could reflect a genuine business-moral dilemma for operators. As one restaurant owner explained anonymously because he was not authorized to speak: “I don’t think I’ve read one thing that hasn’t had nice things to say about the product. And yet I think there’s quite a bit [of concern] from a lot of people with respect to that person’s personal political contributions.”

Then the restaurateur bottom-lined the issue: “I don’t know how to make a good potato bun like that.”

The most prominent buyer of Martin’s roll is Shake Shack, which has evolved from a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in New York City to a multinational chain. The company promotes its values on its website. It even notes that the company has a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for its support of the LGBTQ Plus community.

Danny Meyer, founder of Shake Shack, declined to comment, but a spokesperson for the company sent a statement to The Post:

Shake Shack has always championed equality, inclusion and belonging at our company — and we know these values are important to our guests and team members. Shake Shack does not make political donations, nor does the company endorse the political donations of private individuals. In regards to the actions of individuals associated with the Martin’s company and their personal political donations — those are the choices of those individuals and do not express the values of Shake Shack. We continue to be in active conversations with Martin’s to express our concern.”

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