A Dough­nut Shop’s Change Leaves a Hole

The Washington Post Sunday - - Metro - By Steve Hen­drix

For al­most a decade, the Dunkin’ Donuts in the Cabin John Shop­ping Cen­ter helped Clifford Snap­per be a bet­ter Jew.

Ev­ery week­day morn­ing, be­tween stop­ping for prayers at his Po­tomac syn­a­gogue and head­ing to his job as a re­search physi­cian in Bethesda, Snap­per would stake out a ta­ble with his cup of cof­fee, dough­nut and To­rah.

“I’d do a lot of Jewish study there ev­ery morn­ing,” Snap­per said. “You had your pri­vacy and some com­fort food. For the Ortho­dox com­mu­nity in Po­tomac, it was re­ally the only place you could sit down and eat some­thing kosher lo­cally.”

Now Snap­per does his morn­ing re­li­gious read­ing at his kitchen ta­ble. And the other yarmulke-wear­ing reg­u­lars at the shop have largely dis­persed as well.

When that Dunkin’ Donuts and an­other in Mont­gomery County gave up their kosher sta­tus in Fe­bru­ary to make way for sausage bagels and other break­fast sand­wiches, mem­bers of the Ortho­dox Jewish com­mu­nity lost more than just a sanc­tioned place for a morn­ing nosh, they say: They lost one of the

few places where strictly ob­ser­vant Jews in the neigh­bor­hood could par­tic­i­pate in the chain-store cul­ture that sur­rounds them.

“Peo­ple liked hav­ing ac­cess to a na­tional chain, which is un­usual in the kosher com­mu­nity,” said Rabbi Binyamin San­ders of the Rab­bini­cal Coun­cil of Greater Wash­ing­ton, which over­sees kosher cer­ti­fi­ca­tions in the area. “You can’t go to Wendy’s, you can’t go to McDon­ald’s. It was an ex­tra com­fort in life — a chance to get ac­cess to the other world.”

“And their cof­fee is quite good,” he said.

All of which may ex­plain why the sim­ple re­moval of kosher cer­tifi­cates from two fran­chise dough­nut shops erupted as a con­tro­versy that has res­onated for weeks in the Ortho­dox neigh­bor­hoods of Mont­gomery. Soon af­ter the owner of the stores an­nounced that he would be­gin sell­ing the nonkosher items, an In­ter­net pe­ti­tion sur­faced, and Dunkin’ Donuts cor­po­rate of­fices in Mas­sachusetts re­ported be­ing bom­barded with an­gry e-mails and mes­sage-board com­ments.

In ad­di­tion to the Cabin John lo­ca­tion, the Dunkin’ Donuts in Rockville’s Metro Pike Plaza lost its kosher sta­tus last month af­ter be­gin­ning to serve the meat sand­wiches. A third kosher lo­ca­tion, on Darnestown Road in Gaithers­burg, will be­gin car­ry­ing nonkosher items later this year.

The owner of those fran­chises, Jim Wil­lard, has two other stores that have kept their kosher sta­tus — one on Veirs Mill Road and the other in Rockville’s Jewish Com­mu­nity Cen­ter of Greater Wash­ing­ton.

Wil­lard, who is not Jewish, en­joys deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion in the Ortho­dox com­mu­nity for his years­long will­ing­ness to ac­quire and main­tain kosher sta­tus for the stores, which re­quires days of deep clean­ing, strict com­pli­ance to Jewish food law and mul­ti­ple rab­binic in­spec­tions ev­ery week. To com­port with the rule that kosher food be cooked only by Jews, Wil­lard made sure that only a rabbi lighted the pilot flame of his dough­nut fry­ers.

“Mr. Wil­lard has been ab­so­lutely fab­u­lous and con­sci­en­tious in mak­ing sure that all rules have been kept,” San­ders said.

It was orig­i­nally re­ported in lo­cal Jewish me­dia and dis­cus­sion boards that Wil­lard was be­ing forced to adopt the nonkosher menu items by Dunkin’ Donuts cor- po­rate man­age­ment. The com­pany sub­se­quently re­leased a state­ment say­ing the move had been “a busi­ness de­ci­sion made am­i­ca­bly be­tween fran­chisee and fran­chisor.” Wil­lard would not com­ment. Ac­cord­ing to a cor­po­rate spokesman, there are 30 to 40 kosher Dunkin’ Donuts in the coun­try, and the com­pany de­cides their sta­tus on a case-by-case ba­sis.

Many in the lo­cal Ortho­dox com­mu­nity re­main un­happy with the de­ci­sion.

“There has been just tremen­dous dis­ap­point­ment,” said Alan Reinitz, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Po­tomac’s Beth Shalom Syn­a­gogue. The familiar orange-and-pink boxes of dough­nuts were a fix­ture at con­gre­ga­tion gath­er­ings, he said, par­tic­u­larly at birth­day par­ties in the Early Child­hood De­vel­op­ment Cen­ter. And the store it­self was a fa­vorite meet­ing spot.

“When I went in there, in­evitably I would know five or six peo­ple from the con­gre­ga­tion,” Reinitz said. “Our op­tions are very lim­ited. I don’t know where they are go­ing now.”

For the most strictly ob­ser­vant, such as Snap­per, the only con­ve­nient op­tion af­ter rab­bis de­clared the shop dough­nuta non grata was to stay home with their own cof­fee. Al­though there are plenty of over­tures to Jewish clien­tele in the shop­ping cen­ter — the Gi­ant fea­tures a “Passover Su­per­store” on Aisle 16 and the Ber­man He­brew Academy’s com­ing pro­duc­tion of “Fid­dler on the Roof” is billed in sev­eral win­dows — none of the other eat­ing es­tab­lish­ments is 100 per­cent kosher.

“You can go in and or­der a cup of cof­fee and walk away, but gen­er­ally speak­ing, an Ortho­dox Jew won’t want to be seen sit­ting in a place that serves nonkosher food,” Snap­per said.

The Dunkin’ Donuts, on the other hand, served as a gath­er­ing point for Jews seek­ing warm dough­nuts and ro­bust con­ver­sa­tion. On Sun­days, Snap­per said, it was com­mon to see groups of chavru­sos, or learn­ing com­pan­ions, sip­ping, dunk­ing and ar­gu­ing re­li­gious points.

Snap­per said he is keep­ing his change of rou­tine in per­spec­tive even as he con­tin­ues to re­gret the dis­ap­pear­ance of na­tional kosher out­lets in the area.

“Okay, in the his­tory of the Jewish peo­ple, the loss of a Dunkin’ Donuts is a mi­nor prob­lem,” he said. “But peo­ple felt this was some­thing pleas­ant, a place to gather. We have lost some­thing.”


When the Dunkin’ Donuts in Cabin John gave up its kosher sta­tus in Fe­bru­ary to serve sausage bagels, it lost Clifford Snap­per and other mem­bers of the Ortho­dox Jewish com­mu­nity as reg­u­lars.

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