This is the grave of William Rosenberg.
Born in 1916 in Boston, Rosenberg grew up in a Jewish immigrant family. His father ran a store. They lived in Dorchester and lived in a working class neighborhood. He left school in the eighth grade to help his father survive. By this time, the Depression had hit and so the store had gone belly up. Rosenberg took a job with Western Union as a delivery boy. He did very well and rose in the company quite fast, to the point that he was the national sales manager by 1937. He then took a job with Bethlehem Steel at one of its Massachusetts facilities and worked there through World War II. After the war, he started his own company, providing cheap food for workers in lunch counters around the Boston area.
This company was pretty successful and Rosenberg fairly quickly saw that the profits were based in cheap, sugary snacks, mostly donuts, and coffee. So he decided to go all in on that. He founded his first restaurant, called Open Kettle, in 1948. In 1950, that became Dunkin’ Donuts.
Can we talk about the terribleness that is Dunkin’? It’s so bad! And yet people in New England are obsessed with it. I am not a coffee drinker, so I know people who like their coffee, though I know as many people who think the coffee is trash, but I have no particular personal knowledge of the point. I do know that the donuts are an abomination. Do you like your donuts with extra chalk? Well do I have the chain for you! I mean really, who are the people who wake up in the morning and are like “I really need some Dunkin’ donut holes, those are awesome?” I assume these people actually exist. But I am happy to not know any of them.
Luckily, functional bagels have started coming on the market outside of New York. I am by no means claiming that the bagels of Providence are of NYC or Montreal quality, but at least lots of people no longer have an excuse to go to Dunkin’. When I visit my in-laws in Poughkeepsie, I can go to a decent bagel shop instead of the endless trips to the dry hunks of pointless calories that are what passes for Dunkin’ bagels. If I am going to eat a donut, which to be fair is the kind of thing that is going to happen about every three years since I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I am going to prefer a Krispy Kreme that might be overly sugary but at least ticks that box or one of the many excellent donut places that have popped up all over the country. If you are unfortunate enough to live in Nebraska or Arkansas or some other unmentionable state, then I guess Dunkin’ is probably as good as it gets on most of these things, but if you live in civilization, there is no reason for it to exist.
And yet….I was in Logan a few years ago flying somewhere. I was dropped off by the baggage claim. There was a Dunkin’ there. Then there was a Dunkin’ near the check in line. Then there was a Dunkin’ right by my gate. I just do not get the obsession with this shitty chain in New England and I never will. I have occasionally made fun of Dunkin’ to my students and they can’t really explain it either. It’s just where you go. At least up here, that isn’t going to change and if there’s one thing we know about Americans, it’s that they are completely indifferent to quality or taste.
Anyway, Rosenberg here is the guy responsible for this abomination. One thing he did bring to the table was aggressively expanding the varieties of donuts he sold. Most places in this era sold about 5 different kinds. At its peak Dunkin’ was selling up to 52 varieties. Who knows, back then maybe some of them were even good. He started franchising his store in the late 50s and helped found the International Franchise Association in 1960 to help the capitalists behind the growing world of fast food expand their operations through this new business model that allowed them to maintain control of cost and product while shipping out things such as labor costs to the franchisee.
Rosenberg tried to build on Dunkin’ by challenging McDonald’s in the burger market. This led to Howdy Beefburgers, a ridiculous name but whatever, that had 27 locations around New England and included a clam chowder option as well, but it died in the 70s.
Rosenberg pretty much retired after a cancer diagnosis in early 70s and became a major horsebreeder, classic rich guy sport. He even had a specialty of harness race horses, which really is a niche market. He beat that cancer but eventually did succumb to bladder cancer in 2002. He was 86 years old, so not bad.
Evidently, Dunkin’ Donuts is part of the money that owns Liverpool’s soccer team, so it’s your fault if you are a Liverpool fan.
William Rosenberg is buried in Sharon Memorial Park, Sharon, Massachusetts.
If you would like this series to visit other people responsible for America’s fast food culture, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. White Castle founder Walt Anderson is in Wichita, Kansas and “Colonel” Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, is in Louisville, Kentucky. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.