Election 2022

Shake Shack declines to drop Martin’s, but says they’re in ‘active conversations’ about the bakery’s ties to Mastriano

Other food businesses, like Philly’s Federal Donuts, are seeking alternate potato roll vendors that aren’t connected to the Pa. gov candidate known for election conspiracy theories.

Burgers at Shake Shack are served on Martin's potato rolls — and that's not expected to change, the fast-casual chain says

Burgers at Shake Shack are served on Martin's potato rolls — and that's not expected to change, the fast-casual chain says

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn
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Amid a growing chorus of calls, national high-end burger chain Shake Shack is declining to switch away from the Pennsylvania-based vendor that sells the potato rolls used for many of its signature sandwiches.

The rolls in question are made by Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe. The family that owns Martin’s is among the top supporters of Doug Mastriano, the state senator and Republican candidate for Pa. governor who has been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee, is a leading voice in denying the 2020 election results, and who many have described as a Christian nationalist because of his expressed views.

Several food businesses that have long used Martin’s products dropped them on hearing the connection, but Shake Shack appears to be sticking by its purveyor.

“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,” said a company statement provided by brand and communications director Kristyn Clark.

Tuesday afternoon, after articles appeared in national media outlets, Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe provided a statement on the issue.

“We are aware of recent criticisms leveled against Martin’s and our business partners,” the bakery’s marketing team said. Though members of the same family, stockholders in the private company hold a wide range of views, the statement said, so the company does not support any particular candidate or party.

“We will continue to focus on the values that have made our company successful — baking quality products, providing excellent service to our customers, and supporting the communities around us,” Martin’s said.

Concerns about the political fallout of using Martin’s products started to bubble up for Philadelphia restaurants in advance of the spring Pa. primary, as Billy Penn reported in May.

After Mastriano won the GOP nomination for governor, bringing increased national attention to the statewide race, Martin’s started getting more national scrutiny too. The San Francisco Chronicle, citing Billy Penn reporting, found that Bay Area businesses are also dropping the roll because of the Martin family’s six-figure donations to the candidate.

Popular chef and food writer J. Kenji López-Alt posted about the issue on Instagram, urging his followers not to support establishments that use Martin’s products. He specifically called out Shake Shack and Federal Donuts.

Philadelphia-founded Federal Donuts, part of the CookNSolo restaurant collective that also owns world-famous Israeli restaurant Zahav, now appears to be joining the boycott.

When Billy Penn asked CookNSolo about the Martin’s-Mastriano connection back in May, the company declined to provide a statement. Within the last week, as the news spread, fans began commenting on FedNuts’ Instagram to pressure a shift.

It started on May 31 with “Still using Martin’s buns?” and a link to Billy Penn’s story, added by  @sculpturegrl. More Martin’s-focused comments popped up on the next day’s donut post.

“Have you addressed the issue of the potato rolls yet? I thought a company like this would be more aware of their impact…” @thebeardedbarbarian commented on a June 2 post.

In a comment, Federal Donuts replied: “We are aware. We have been working on this. Thank you.”

The company reiterated the move to Billy Penn on Monday. “I’m happy to confirm FedNuts’ message that they have been working on this,” a spokesperson said, declining to clarify anything further.

‘They are shakeable’

In relative terms, Martin’s support for Mastriano’s has been quite significant. The Pa. senator’s gubernatorial campaign got a $110k donation from Jim Martin, whose parents founded the business. It was the biggest single donation the campaign received ahead of the Pennsylvania primary election. Other members of the Martin family have made smaller donations to the Mastriano campaign as well.

Martin’s is Shake Shack’s only potato bun supplier, according to public financial records. The burger chain made over $715 million in sales last year.

Shake Shack, like Martin’s, said the company itself does not make political donations or endorse the donations of private individuals.

One of the voices calling on Shake Shake to cut its Martin’s ties is Joe Rosenthal, a Minnesota mathematician who also runs an Instagram account with over 31k followers that calls out restaurants for bad behavior — oftentimes unfair labor practices.

Rosenthal has promoted Martin’s on his own site over the last few years, though he said he never took money for it.

That’s not going to happen anymore, he said. “I’ve lost any hope that Martin’s will acknowledge the harm in their actions.”

So Rosenthal has turned his focus to Shake Shack. The New York-born company founded by restaurateur Danny Meyer went public in 2015 and now has hundreds of locations around the world. On its website, under the tab “our values,” Shake Shack notes that the original hot dog cart in Madison Square Park was raising funds for a public art project.

“As we grew into a global business, our mission to Stand For Something Good expanded to include taking care of our team, sourcing premium ingredients from like-minded partners, designing our Shacks responsibly, supporting our communities through donations, events, and volunteering-and much more,” the Shake Shack website says.

On the home page, Shake Shack prominently displays its Pride Month fundraiser for the Trevor Project, which provides crisis support services to LGBTQ youth.

“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,” the company’s statement on Tuesday said.

Mastriano, in his victory speech on primary Election Day, reportedly vowed to bar trans women from women’s sports and said “you can only use the bathroom that your biology and anatomy says” if he becomes governor. He wrote a master’s thesis in 2021 that warned of a left-wing “Hitlerian Putsch” and said “The assault started with the insertion of homosexuality into the military.”

In an Instagram post on Monday, Rosenthal noted Shake Shack’s pledge to donate $75k at least to Trevor Project. “Martin’s through their owner, has donated an order of magnitude more than that to Mastriano, and Shake Shack, through their extensive use of Martin’s rolls, is enabling more and more money to flow toward far-right Christian nationalism,” the post read.

“It’s not a massive brand, but they are potentially having a massive impact on a candidate who is mostly stringing together contributions from smaller donors,” Rosenthal told Billy Penn. “They are shakeable, not directly, but through Shake Shack.”

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