By 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 14, when owner Samir Shah arrived to open his Dunkin’ Donuts on Pleasant Valley Way in West Orange, there was already a line outside.
As of 6 a.m., the store was officially kosher under the supervision of the Vaad HaKashrus of MetroWest, and by 10 a.m. Shah had already gone through double the usual amount of doughnuts sold on a Sunday morning.
And there was still a line.
The change was eight years in the making, and patrons are thrilled.
Twelve-year-old Judah Ullman, a member of the Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center in Livingston and a seventh-grader at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, said, “Kids love doughnuts. They’re gonna beg their parents to come here!” His father, Harold Ullman, added, “It’s going to create a whole new atmosphere. I’m sure it will become a center of socializing.”
“We have been determined for the last eight years to have this store in the center of our community become kosher. We are very excited that it has happened. It is wonderful for our community,” said Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler of Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David in West Orange and a Vaad member who was among those pushing for the change. He was present for all the kashering at the store and stayed through the opening, greeting members of his community as they filed in before soccer games, after taking down their sukkot, and just to enjoy doughnuts with their families.
Shah said he’s been behind the idea from the start as well, but it took a while to win over the corporate management team that oversees the store.
He credits a stroke of good luck for the hechsher. One day, a while back, Zwickler stopped by to raise the kashrut issue, as he had done on and off. At the same time, one of the corporation’s managers had come to observe the store operations. Shah put the two together, and, “it clicked this time for everyone,” he said. “My manager called his boss and said, ‘Let’s try it.’” Shah added, “It’s not that the managers weren’t for it before; they just wanted to run it as a regular store for a while.”
It has taken two-three weeks since Shah received final approval to complete the transition.
Kashrut and Jewish culture are not new to Shah, a Hindu who grew up in India. His uncle married a woman from Israel, and he has cousins who live in Tel Aviv and speak Hebrew. He has also worked for airlines that cater to Jewish passengers. “I know a lot of things about kosher,” he said. “I know there is glatt kosher, and there is kosher kosher. It’s not so new to me.”
That didn’t mean it wasn’t a labor-intensive project to convert the store to kosher. “If I tell you how many hours I have spent to kosherize the store,” said Shah. “And Saturday I was there the whole day and until 3 a.m. so we were ready to open at 6 a.m. on Sunday.”
According to Dunkin’ Donuts spokesperson McCall Gosselin, “Franchisees interested in pursuing or retaining kosher status for their restaurants must apply to us for an exception from selling certain nonkosher products. In the case of Dunkin’ Donuts, the products they would seek exemption from selling include ham, bacon, or sausage that are standard menu items for Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants.”
She added, “The franchise owner must provide sufficient evidence that there is a demonstrated customer preference for a kosher restaurant. The franchisee is also required to show that the restaurant has received and will maintain proper kosher certification.”
There are now approximately 40 kosher Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants. While the company could not provide information on which was the first, fans in both Chicago and Elizabeth claim theirs have that distinction; both have reportedly been in operation as kosher establishments for 25-30 years.