The maker of Martin’s potato rolls is in a political pickle

Almost perfect.
Almost perfect.
Image: Reuters/Brendan McDermid
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If you’ve ever eaten a Shake Shack burger, you’ve had a Martin’s potato roll, which has been described as the “platonic ideal” of a hamburger bun.

The just-sweet-enough golden buns have a cult following in Pennsylvania, where Martin’s Famous Bakery Shoppe was founded in 1955. They have been a backyard barbecue and supermarket staple in the northeast for decades, and more recently found fans around the world as Shake Shack, with its hundreds of locations across North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, adopted Martin’s as a supplier to its growing burger empire.

But recently the potato rolls have been leaving some people with a bad taste in their mouths. Jim Martin, the executive chair of the bakery and former president of Martin’s, was recently identified as the leading financial backer of far-right politician Doug Mastriano, the Pennsylvania state senator and retired US Army colonel who last month became the Republican party’s gubernatorial candidate for the 2022 mid-terms.

Now some consumers are calling for a boycott of Martin’s buns. “It’s very concerning,” one Philadelphia restaurant owner who serves Martin’s potato bread told Billy Penn, a news site by public radio station WHYY.  “As things become more polarized and politicians become more extreme, do we have to draw a line somewhere?”

The potato roll’s connection to Mastriano is turning stomachs

Mastriano’s successful bid to become the GOP nominee in Pennsylvania, aided by an endorsement from former president Donald Trump, has rattled progressive voters and less extreme Republicans alike. The state senator supports a complete ban on abortion and has been seen at events organized by QAnon conspiracy theorists, the New York Times reports.

Mastriano has also been a zealous Trump loyalist, echoing false claims that Trump actually won the 2020 election and attempting to overturn results in  Pennsylvania. He arranged for buses to the Jan. 6, 2021, rally that became a deadly insurrection and attended the event, where video footage captured him crossing police lines. (He has said he was not aware of plans to attempt to overthrow the government that day and that he did not enter the Capitol building.)

A week after a horrific school shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Mastriano reshared a video clip from a 2018 election debate in which he compared gun control regulations in the US to Nazi Germany.

“It’s appalling to me any time there’s a shooting, the left will jump on that as a way to advance an agenda to remove our right to bear arms. … What other right will they suspend?” Mastriano said at the time.

“We saw Lenin do the same thing in Russia. We saw Hitler do the same thing in Germany in the ’30s. Where does it stop? Where do the tyrants stop infringing upon our rights?”

On Instagram, the popular chef and writer J. Kenji López-Alt called attention to a Capital & Main news story that quotes Mastriano boasting that he can decertify every voting machine in the state “with a stroke of a pen.”   

“This is no joke. This is not small town local politics,” the chef wrote. “This affects PA gubernatorial elections, which plays a pivotal role in US presidential elections.”

Others are busy looking for a decent substitute to Martin’s. (Shake Shack did not immediately respond to queries.)

Martin donated $110,000 to Mastriano’s campaign last year, according to Billy Penn, which also reports that “No other donor has written a six-figure check to Mastriano’s campaign this year or last.” Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe has not responded to Quartz’s request for comment.Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe has not responded to Quartz’s request for comment.