People are boycotting Martin's Potato Rolls for founder's ties to a far-right politician

Noam Galai

Boycotts are rolling in for America’s favorite potato bread brand.

Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe has captivated Northeastern taste buds for generations with its just-the-right-amount-of-sweet and ultra fluffy potato rolls and bread. In recent years, the family business has become a nationally known brand for supplying Shake Shack (one of the fastest-growing food chains in the country) with its burger buns. Recently, a controversy around Jim Martin, the company’s executive chair and former president (his son Tony is now president), and his family have consumers questioning which side the brand’s bread is buttered on.

This past week, news emerged that Martin is a backer of Doug Mastriano, the Trump-endorsed Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania who was subpoenaed for involvement in the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. According to NBC News, "Mastriano, who has campaigned at events alongside QAnon adherents, was on restricted Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, just feet from rioters breaching police barricades. He has said he left before the riot."

"Mastriano built his brand and loyal following by doggedly seeking to overturn President Joe Biden’s win in Pennsylvania," his campaign was "infused with themes of Christian nationalism," according to NBC News, and just last week, "Mastriano was raising money off false stolen election claims."

Mastriano has also "advocated for no exceptions in an abortion ban and has introduced a bill that would bar abortions at about six weeks of pregnancy."

A week after the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Mastriano responded by resharing a 2018 video clip that featured him likening gun reform to Nazi Germany, tweeting, "Historically, this is accurate."

According to Billy Penn and Spotlight PA, who drew from campaign finance records filed with the state, Martin has donated $110,000 to Mastriano’s campaign last year. Martin’s wife, Donna, and their daughter Julie (who works as the brand’s social media manager) have also donated to Mastriano. Billy Penn also reported that, in 2019, Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe hosted a committee hearing chaired by Mastriano while he was a state senator.

For its partnership with Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe, Shake Shack is also coming under fire, with cookbook author and restaurateur J. Kenji López-Alt announcing his boycott of Martin's products or any restaurant that uses its products on June 1.

"As a longtime fan of the products @potatorolls makes, the news that the Martin family is heavily backing an election-denying, far-right PA gubernatorial candidate is disheartening," López-Alt wrote in an Instagram post. "Jim Martin has donated over $100k (the largest single donor) to Doug Mastriano’s campaign. Among other things, Mastriano attended the Jan. 6 insurrection and supports a total abortion ban in PA. 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 (this includes all @shakeshack and @federaldonuts locations)."

Federal Donuts is a Philadelphia-based doughnut shop that serves a chicken sandwich featuring Martin’s potato rolls. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"I bought my last last night," celebrity chef Tom Colicchio commented on López-Alt's post.

Social media personality and self-described "food antagonist" Joe Rosenthal also called for a boycott of Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe on June 1.

"I’ve been a fan and supported Martin’s endlessly over the years on social media, and on my website, but Jim Martin’s donation can’t be separated from Martin’s as a brand, and Martin’s can’t be separated from the far-right Christian nationalism that Mastriano firmly represents," Rosenthal wrote in an Instagram post. "Mastriano is a 2020 presidential election denier that has used his PA state senate to try to stem mask mandates and critical race theory, and he supports a total ban on abortion in PA."

Rosenthal also points to the fact that, despite not being Jewish, Mastriano announced his gubernatorial candidacy by having a man wearing a tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl, blow a shofar. At the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, some insurrectionists also blew shofars.

The SF Chronicle also reported that some Bay Area chefs would no longer be using Martin's burger buns a result of the maker's political ties. Quinnie's, a specialty food market in Hudson, New York, shared on its Instagram that it would be "(p)ulling potatorolls (sic) from our menu and shelves … We don’t want to take part in the support of something we so strongly disagree with," adding that Shake Shack should "do the right thing and start using other buns."

In a statement to TODAY Food, a Shake Shack spokesperson addressed the backlash:

"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," they said. "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."

As of this story's publication, Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe has not replied to TODAY’s request for comment, but on May 17, Pennsylvania's primary election day — when Mastriano won the GOP nomination for governor — Martin's Potato Rolls shared the following Instagram post, which shows an American flag and a Christian nationalism flag:

"Today is primary election day in our home state of Pennsylvania, so it’s a great time to celebrate the freedoms we have in the United States. 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. May God bless you today, may God protect our troops, and may God bless the United States of America!"