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City of Brass

For over 20 years, Arab-American businessman Walid Elkhatib has run a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise in a suburb of Chicago. Now, however, the Dunkin Donuts corporation has decided to single him out for his faith, revoking his franchise:

An Arab-American owner of a Chicago-area
Dunkin’ Donuts store has to give up his franchise after he lost his
long-running legal battle with the restaurant chain over his religious
objections to selling pork products.

A
lawyer for Walid Elkhatib said Tuesday his client is in the process of
removing Dunkin’ Donuts signs from his Westchester outlet, but
apparently not fast enough for the company.

The dietary restrictions of
Elkhatib’s Muslim faith forbid him from eating or handling pork. When
he decided to go into the restaurant business, his faith [was] one of the
reasons why he invested in Dunkin’ Donuts in 1979. The chain did not
introduce breakfast sandwiches until 1984
.

For nearly 20 years,
Dunkin’ Donuts accommodated his religious beliefs, even providing him
signs for his store that said, “No meat products available,”
Elkhatib
asserted in court documents. But in 2002, the company reversed course
and told him it would not renew his franchise agreement if he did not
sell its full line of products.

To those who would cry dhimmitude, note my emphasis above – Elkhatib sought out DD for his business precisely because it had no pork products at the time; they introduced pork to the menu years later. But let’s be clear here. DD has every right to insist on and modify terms for its franchisees, and those terms can indeed include a requirement that the full menu be served with no exception.

However, what DD cannot do is make exceptions for franchisees of one religion and insist on strict adherence for franchisees of another. Which is exactly what Dunkin’ Donuts has been doing – since there are dozens of kosher-certified Dunkin’ Donuts franchises in New York and New Jersey, catering to the Jewish community. There’s even one in Chicago!

Keep in mind that to get an official kosher certification (Kashrut), the restaurant must not only offer kosher menu options, but have no pork products for sale whatsoever. I called the Dunkin’ Donuts in Teaneck, New Jersey (1406 Teaneck Road, 201-862-0062) this
morning and verified for myself that the location is indeed fully
kosher and serves no pork products whatsoever. I also called the Chicago location (3132 W. Devon Ave, 773-262-4560) and they confirmed that they serve an all-vegetarian menu.

The existence of kosher Dunkin’ Donuts stores hasn’t exactly been without controversy, though the specifics are not what you might expect. Far from trying to be kosher against the corporate command, some DD franchisees were discovered to have been proudly advertising their kosher status and still serving pork on the side. Some of these stores claimed they were being forced to “go treyf” (serve pork) by the Dunkin’ Donuts corporation, but the parent company quickly issued denials to assuage the Jewish community’s concerns. Of course, no one is hyperventilating about jhimmitude over any of this.

The larger issue here is, what do we mean by “freedom of religion” ? Where does our practice of religion end and others’ begin? Does it really “impose” faith on others when we make decisions for ourselves – and does it really impose on our customers when we make these decisions in a business context? Yes, there will always be some customers who go into a store and throw a tantrum when they can’t get what they want. But just as no one is forcing the franchise owner to open a store, so too is no one forcing the customer to eat there. Fundamentally, freedom of religion means that there shoudl indeed be freedom on the part of everyone involved. Those who cry dhimmitude at Mr. Elkhatib’s eminently reasonable religious requirements are displaying naked Islamophobia, given that Dunkin’ Donuts is applying a double standard to which they presumably do not object. If Dunkin’ Donuts wants to make a change to its terms, it has that right – but that change must be equally binding to all franchisees, not just muslim ones. Until then, this truly is a case of religious oppression rather than freedom.

UPDATE: It’s worth remembering that last year, Dunkin’ Donuts was quick to pull an advertisement in response to Jewish complaints, which featured Rachel Ray wearing a checkered scarf. The argument was that the scarf resembled a kefffiyeh (Palestinian symbol) and thus was implicitly anti-Semitic. The absolute ludicrousness of this hysterical demand was not enough to keep DD from caving immediately. It seems that DD is keen to be as proactive as possible in disassociating itself from any hint of dhimmitude. 

Related: Discussion at Talk Islam. Also, there’s an in-depth article on franchising under kosher requirements, which goes into extensive detail about finer details including Sabbath observations by suppliers, Jewish ownership, and even cooking by non-Jews in the kitchen. There are many strong (and non-coincidental) parallels to halal, of course. An interesting fact that may or may not be relevant to the story at hand: it was  Jewish entrepeneur who is credited with inventing the modern franchise system in the 1950’s, by launching his own business selling coffee, donuts and bagels. The name of that first franchise? Dunkin’ Donuts Corporation.

All this political talk making you hungry? Here’s an active thread on Chowhound discussing kosher DD locations. There’s also the Shamash kosher database that lets you search major metro regions throughout the US for kosher restaurants of all types. For muslims, there’s no better resource for finding halal food than Zabihah.com.

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