When customers order a hamburger, most of the time they’re focusing on the beef and what goes on it. Cheese. Lettuce and tomato. Maybe a splash of mayo?
But more and more foodservice operations these days are coming to the realization that it’s the bun that can really make a burger stand out.
And no one knows that better than the Martin family, who have been making their potato rolls for more than half a century.
According to Julie Martin, social media manager at Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe, Inc., Lois and Lloyd Martin, her grandparents, started the company in 1955, making their rolls and selling them at farmers’ markets in south-central Pennsylvania, also known as Amish country.
“My grandma Lois,” says Martin, “she and my grandpa turned their garage into a small bakery, and they made a lot of different products, but the most popular was their potato rolls. Even though we, at one time, were up to 120 different products – doughnuts, cookies, cakes – around 1977 we decided to streamline and focus on our best products, potato breads. We were the first ones to take potato rolls and potato bread to the market. When we started, no one else was doing it. We were the first ones out there on the shelf.”
Today it’s the #1 branded hamburger roll in the U.S., Martin says.
“It makes your hamburger taste like a steak. It upgrades the quality of the whole experience. We’ve often said you can use cheaper meat on our roll and still have a great sandwich,” she adds.
In fact, the owners of Shake Shack, now expanding overseas, won’t use anything but Martin’s potato rolls, even though the cost of shipping them there is great. “Our potato rolls are ‘non-negotiable.’ That’s the word they use,” she says. “Celebrity chef Bobby Flay says it too. He was making burgers on TV in California and he said he’d source everything out there but he was bringing the rolls with him from the East Coast, and they were ours,” says Martin proudly.
What makes the rolls so popular? “My younger brother, our vice president of baking operations and our master baker, works really hard to make them consistently great-tasting,” Martin points out.
Another important factor is the ingredients that are used. “We use high-quality ingredients, including high-protein wheat flour, which makes our products higher in protein than most yogurts. If you compare our carbohydrate rate with other breads, or typical health foods, we’re lower in carbs than most of the yogurts out there. Not long ago, I had a yogurt, a nice healthy breakfast, and I grabbed the bread lying there – ours, of course!– and did a quick comparison, and I was actually surprised myself. It was higher in protein, lower in sugar, lower in fat, lower in cholesterol, lower in all the stuff you want to be lower in and higher in all the good stuff. It’s a lot healthier product than most people know.”
Martin says the company experimented with lots of different types of wheat (there are 30,000 to choose from!) and they selected the one higher in protein. “A lot of breads don’t use milk or just use whey (which is cheaper), but we use real milk, add potatoes, potato flour. A combination of high protein wheat flour and milk and potato gives you a nice cooking content. Start comparing it to other things you think are healthier and you’ll say, wait a minute, this is healthier.”
Martin says the healthiness and good taste is what her family wants, too. “We want it to taste good and feel good about eating it; have it be an important part of a balanced diet.”
The product is not the cheapest on the shelf, she admits, because the company does use real milk, real sugar and real butter. But it’s worth it, she says. And they’re always looking to improve their products, switching to sunflower oil instead of soybean oil recently because of allergies some people have to soy and concern about genetically modified foods.
“We’ve also shifted away from using any kind of artificial dye or coloring, and instead we use turmeric, a natural spice which provides a golden color and also is purported to have natural anti-inflammatory properties. Our product is great, it’s healthy for you and people seem to respond to our being in touch with the changing needs of the foodservice industry,” she says. “We want to make a product we want to eat, too.”
The product most targeted for the foodservice industry are its rolls. “Our biggest ‘bread and butter’ is the hamburger rolls and hot dog rolls we sell,” says Martin with a laugh. “A lot of chains use them, and casual restaurants are picking up on that, too. The way to differentiate themselves from fast food is to have a great bun.”
A special product for the foodservice industry is the new 4-inch size roll for a big burger. “This is only for foodservice. A lot of our restaurants are switching over to those so they can offer a good-quality roll in a larger size,” she says.
The company also has a sesame-seeded white roll, called Big Marty, that’s actually become very popular. “Bobby Flay uses the more traditional sesame-seeded Big Marty burger roll in his restaurants. Our high-protein wheat flour makes a more substantial, better-tasting roll than the average white roll,” she notes.
When making a gourmet burger, something that’s better than a fast-food burger, the roll is very important, more important than people know, Martin points out.
“Pat LaFrieda, the king of beef, admitted to me that the bun’s just as important as the beef. We love that a lot of people are seeing that beef is important but so is the bun. You can’t take a cheap knock-off bun and think it’s going to be a good burger experience,” she says. “If you want to raise the bar for a fabulous burger, you’ve got to have a great bun.”
Martin remembers that the company got a man who had a hot dog stand to try their potato rolls. “He was blown away. He said, ‘Can I use a banner, advertising I’m using your rolls? I never had anyone come back and say, “This is such a great hot dog,” before I started using your rolls.’ What makes us stand out from the crowd is that food operators will sell more if people have a good experience. It will build a more loyal following,” she says.
An additional differentiator is the fact that Martin’s Potato Rolls’ service turns on a dime. “Our service is fantastic,” she says. “Since we’re family-owned, we’re way more responsive in taking orders. One of our customers is a sports stadium, and one of its restaurants using our product underestimated their order. A big game was happening, and they called in a panic, it was a holiday, what could they do? Our guy in the area left a family gathering and went and got more rolls and took them to the restaurant. That’s just one example of our motto in action: We’ll do ‘whatever it takes’ to serve our customers. We’re better than a lot of companies with late orders and changed orders, and that’s so important in foodservice, because someone will always underestimate or forget to order but our distribution guys are second to none. We’re nimble, we can work very quickly.”
Another new product the company recently launched is a cinnamon raisin swirl potato bread. “In taste tests, it has blown away the competition,” she says.
A product that’s been around for a while but that’s becoming increasingly popular is the company’s hoagie rolls. “We’ve seen nice new growth in our hoagie rolls because people use them for meatball subs and cheese steaks. It’s almost like an Italian-type roll.”
Martin says her family is hoping that foodservice operators will begin to see its potato rolls as more than just for hamburgers and hot dogs. “Why not use them for PB&J and cold cuts, use them for other things throughout the year.”
For more information, go to www.potatorolls.com or call 800-548-1200.