The Takeout has written 38 articles related to Shake Shack over the years, the vast majority of them positive. We like the burger chain’s chicken sandwiches. We like its biodegradable straws. We really liked its decision to test a four-day workweek for employees. What we don’t like is Shake Shack’s silence amid revelations that Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe, Inc., the company that supplies Shake Shack’s beloved potato rolls, is linked to a dangerous, seemingly insurrectionist politician.
If you’re unfamiliar, Martin’s potato rolls are those gorgeous golden buns that house Shake Shack’s succulent sandwiches. They’re produced by Pennsylvania-based Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe, Inc., which was founded in 1955 as a pint-sized family-owned operation. Per our friends at Quartz, Martin’s has been a “backyard barbecue and supermarket staple in the northeast for decades”—but it wasn’t until Shake Shack adopted Martin’s as a supplier that the bakery reached worldwide acclaim. Now, Martin’s advertises its product as “The Shake Shack bun,” touting the bun’s “sweet, buttery flavor and soft, pillowy texture.”
Last month, Philadelphia news source Billy Penn identified Jim Martin, the former president of Martin’s, as the leading financial backer of Pennsylvania state senator and far-right conspiracy theorist Doug Mastriano. Last month, Mastriano beat out a broad field of GOP candidates and became the Republican party’s gubernatorial candidate for the 2022 midterms—and his success was likely due in large part to Martin’s support. According to campaign finance records, Jim Martin gave $110,000 to Mastriano’s gubernatorial campaign last year. Quartz points out that no other donor has written a six-figure check to Mastriano’s campaign this year or last.
“But he’s not the company president anymore!” you might protest. Well, yes, that’s true; per Quartz, Jim Martin passed the company presidency to his son, Tony Martin, last year—but Jim Martin remains executive chair of the company’s board.
This is also just the latest event in a long, cozy relationship between the Martin family and Mastriano. In 2020, Martin gave $11,000 to Mastriano’s campaign. Before that, in 2019, the Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe location in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, hosted a public hearing for a committee Mastriano chaired in the state Senate. My point: The Martins are tight with Mastriano.
It matters because Mastriano is no ordinary Republican. Not only does he support a complete ban on abortion; per Politico, he also arranged bus transportation to the January 6 insurrection and, the New York Times reports, has attended numerous events organized by QAnon conspiracy theorists.
Mastriano is also an election denier. On Instagram, chef and writer J. Kenji López-Alt called attention to a Capital & Main news story which quotes Mastriano boasting that he can decertify every voting machine in the state “with a stroke of a pen.”
With all of this in mind, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat asks: “Can Republicans prevent their party from becoming the party of constitutional crisis, with leaders tacitly committed to turning the next close presidential election into a legal-judicial-political train wreck?” If Mastriano has his way, the answer is a resounding no.
On the consumer side, amateur sandwich artists are already looking for alternatives to Martin’s. (Food & Wine editor Kat Kinsman took to Twitter and called for followers to “seize the means of potato roll production.”) But how do consumers respond when their favorite fast food joint continues to collude with an imminent threat to democracy? That’s a question for Shake Shack, whose spokespeople did not respond to The Takeout’s request for comment.
Here’s the deal: I generally don’t expect ethical behavior from fast food companies. They are not benevolent entities. But Shake Shack makes a point of branding itself upon the shaky bedrock of progressivism. Take, for example, the chain’s homepage, which currently features a Pride month promotion called “Together Is Sweeter.” Navigate to the “Our Values” page, and you’ll see the following feel-good statement (emphasis ours):
“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.”
If the chain really cares about sourcing ingredients from like-minded partners, the continued silence on Martin’s sends the wrong message. I understand that supply chain issues and contracts are a concern; I don’t expect Shake Shack to throw its remaining Martin’s rolls into a giant dumpster in solidarity with progressive causes. But some sort of acknowledgement would be nice, especially given the chain’s continued use of progressive terminology as a marketing strategy. The least Shake Shack can do is put its money where its mouth is.