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Two L.A. Burger Shops Join Boycott Against ‘Martin’s Famous Potato Buns’ Over Donations to Anti-Abortion Politician

1:44 PM PDT on June 30, 2022

    Hangaburs’ Tepic burger. Photo by Erwin Recinos for L.A. Taco.

    The sweet, soft buns known as Martin’s Famous ­Potato Roll are to the modern-day hamburger craze what handmade Sonoran wheat tortillas are to your Sonoran tacos, a nearly ubiquitous, cult-status bookend to smashburgers and celebrity chef cheeseburger chains the world over.

    But following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V. Wade, dismantling the rights to universal reproductive freedom and equal liberties for women in the U.S., a handful of burger-makers local and otherwise are looking for a new bun. All due to the company’s perceived political leanings.

    Three local burger chefs, including Eggslut founder and AmBoy Quality Meats owner Alvin Calian, and Alicia Lopez and Cecilia Ledezma, owners of El Sereno-based smashburger sensation Hangaburs, are both speaking out on social media in the last few days about their refusal to purchase and use Martin’s anymore.

    At issue are donations from Martin’s executive chair, Jim Martin, son of the founders of this family-owned business-cum-global-corporation, as well as its former president, totaling over $100,000 to Doug Mastriano, the GOP nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, which Martin’s calls home.

    Mastriano is an extremist far-right politician groveling in the tawny wake left by Donald Trump’s dye job, supporting the bullshit “Stop the Steal” movement, intent on restructuring voting in his state, itching to arm our nation’s teachers, and bragging to Steve Bannon that he’s “the most pro-life guy out there,” with aims to outlaw abortion in all cases, including in the case of pregnancies produced by rape and incest, or that threaten the life of the mother.

    Hangaburs owners Lopez and Ledezma tell L.A. TACO that they first became aware of Martins’ contributions to Mastriano a couple of weeks ago when they were sent a few articles about it, leading to their own research and a rapidly growing feeling that they needed to drop the brand behind their preferred bun.

    “What really triggered the big decision was last week’s ruling by the Supreme Court to strip away women’s rights,” Lopez says. “We knew that we had to pull the plug immediately and stop using the product.”

    “For us, as queer Latinas, we know our rights and freedoms are in danger,” Lopez continues. “Clarence Thomas made that very clear. That we’re next, on top of what was already done. So, we couldn’t stand back and continue to purchase products from a company that is knowingly contributing to politicians that believe we deserve less rights than them.”

    The Hangaburs owners expressed these feelings in a post last Sunday, explaining that “unless Martin’s takes swift action to change their stance and affiliations,” it would no longer use the bun. The message was quickly cheered on by such local food heroes as Dora Herrera of Los Feliz’s James Beard-winning Yuca’s, El Café by Primera Taza, Emian Burgers, and River Street BBQ.

    At least one out-of-town chef, Ben Allen, of St. Paul, Minnesota’s El Norte Kitchen, notes that he “made the switch” himself on the post, while Philadelphia’s Federal Donuts has received some press for making the switch and speaking out, too. User J Sonj simply wrote, “Keep your Republican buns out my fuckin mouth,” for which we have to take a moment to applaud.

    On his Twitter, Cailan, famous as the founder of Eggslut, wrote: “I used their buns for various projects since 2015. I’ll never use Martins Potato Rolls again,” before questioning why he was unable to tag the company directly. At least one Instagram user, a skilled home chef who goes by Scott Tabbat, also says he was blocked from mentioning Martin’s , a new development Lopez and Ledezma discovered, as well.

    “We used to tag them all the time in our pictures, and we realized when we did the post that we didn’t have that option anymore,” Ledezma says, unable to identify who is locally or nationally supporting the burgeoning boycott with the ease we’ve come to expect from such tags.

    And while small local businesses like Hangaburs’ owners and Cailan are both bravely speaking out against Martin’s and the distasteful political leanings of its head honcho, there are much, MUCH bigger businesses that have basically turned Martin’s into such a notable name. Operations that don’t sound quite ready to embrace or announce any changes just yet.

    Large, legendary chains led first and foremost by Shake Shack, Danny Meyer’s rabidly popular burger chain with 350 locations across the world, from Canada to Kuwait. The enterprise is famously known to use Martin’s for its burgers. Martin’s is expressly proud of this, dedicating a full page to the fact on its website. Not long before reminding us, “The Martins have never lost sight of their faith in God, their dedication to family, and their rigorous dedication to baking the best products.”

    Oft-ballyhooed by the culinary authorities, from news giant Eater to celebrity chef David Chang and venerable food scientist J. Kenji López-Alt, praise has been heavy for the taste and texture of Martin’s bread in the past, making it something of a darling of the burger businesses and the gastronomic big-wigs that help drive food trends in our nation and beyond.

    “It was so popular and everyone was using it,” Ledezma notes. “Shake Shack was the one that really made it famous. And when we were starting our business, we thought, ‘we need to use that bun.’”

    While J. Kenji Lopez-Alt has outspokenly committed to a boycott of Martin’s and urged his fans to do the same, Shake Shack is currently not, issuing the following statement:

    “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."

    Martin’s has also chimed in itself in a statement that says: “Like the rest of the country, Martin's employees, business partners, and customers hold to a diverse range of personal opinions, beliefs, and values. Although the stockholders who own the company are members of the same family, they also hold a wide range of views… For these reasons, the company, as a matter of policy, does not support any particular candidate or party.”

    Mirroring the state of the nation itself, the corporate response so far appears to be a vortex of watered-down contention, sidestepping, and straight-up complicity.

    As for Hangaburs, the owners say they’re currently speaking with a handful of local bakeries, with plans to test various products this weekend. Not only to get far away from ever touching another Martin’s Famous Potato Roll again, but to also support local businesses and maintain better control over its product.

    And while it’s unclear how many other local smashburger businesses or international chefs may be on their side at the moment, they agree that every voice matters when it comes to ensuring our dollars aren’t unknowingly being funneled to the very politicians focused on robbing us of our equal rights.

    “For us, we are probably pennies to the Martin’s family,” Ledezma says. “But in this situation, we believe every penny counts. And if we all came together, there could be some serious change. It could affect them.”

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