A Doughnut Shop's Change Leaves a Hole

By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 1, 2007

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 years-long 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.

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