Most things that we do cost money. Whether it’s attending classes at Grand Valley State University, grabbing lunch from Panda Express or just listening to Spotify Premium on our phones: unless your day exclusively consists of taking a walk around an area you didn’t have to pay for transportation to, most of your daily interactions with the world around you are probably financial in nature. That’s not necessarily a negative. I quite enjoy my Panda Express. But it means that when news breaks that we’ve been regularly giving our money to someone morally questionable… well, it can get awkward. GVSU itself felt this awkwardness in June when a now infamous recording of “Papa John” himself, John Schnatter, casually using racial slurs during a conference call. Having already discussed replacing the Papa John’s in Fuel due to declining, the scandal sealed the deal to replace it with the currently operating Oath Pizza. The Papa John’s in the Connection, a full territorial franchise, posed more of a difficulty, but is expected to close down. But before we’ve even gotten to see what’s replacing our last scandalized establishment, yet another campus business has come under fire in the media for being “ethically complicated.”
Einstein Bros Bagels, a once bankrupted corporation owned by Boston Chicken Inc. (never by actual brothers with the surname Einstein, as I had always assumed), was purchased and resurrected by JAB Holdings in 2014 – a conglomerate featuring households names like Krispy Kreme, Panera Bread, Keurig Coffee and, apparently, the Nazi party of Germany.
Uncovered company documents have recently revealed that the Reimann family, founders and controllers of JAB Holdings, were not unwilling subjugates of the Third Reich but committed and enthusiastic Hitler supporters who completely escaped punishment when the party was dismantled after World War II. Not only did they donate to the campaign long before the SS came to power, by 1943 a third of the workers in the chemical factory that made the Reimann family fortune (now the consumer giant Reckitt Benckiser whose brands encompass everything from Durex to Lysol) were forced laborers captured by the Nazi military. Abuses like female workers being forced to stand naked for their factory supervisors, or those forced to serve in the Reimann’s own home being kicked and beaten, were tragically commonplace.
Of course, Albert Reimann Jr. has been dead since 1984. It can be easily argued that his surviving family and the business fortune they inherited, who have no such official connections to the Nazi party, are not responsible for their corporation’s history – and besides, the Reimanns plan to make up for the controversy by donating $11.3 million to a yet-unidentified charity. Setting aside that each Reimann is independently worth $4 billion, making $11.3 million only 0.3% of even one of their individual fortunes, there’s only so much justice that could be done at this point anyway. Albert Reimann and his father are too dead to go to jail for their human rights abuses. The money they made is so spread out among a monopoly of purchased businesses that there’s not even one direction in which to point fingers.
But there’s one thing that’s still rubbing consumers the wrong way and it comes down to just one business – Einstein Bros Bagels. There’s something just fundamentally twisted about a company founded by anti-Semitic exploiters of Nazi prison labor owning a business with a completely fake Jewish name, selling a product that originated in the Jewish communities of Poland. Twisting the knife, according to the online Jewish publication The Kveller, is the fact that the bagels aren’t even good – one quote jokingly suggests that making terrible bagels is “the most passive-aggression form of Antisemitism yet.”
Ultimately, it seems unlikely that the Reimanns will feel any financial consequences from their white-supremacist past through their safe conglomerate of countless purchased businesses. But the fact that one of those businesses has a false Jewish face feels like a particularly sick joke. It might be conveniently located next to my classes in Mackinac and the only place that sells plain bagels bland enough for my partner’s tastes, but next time we pass by Einstein’s, I think I’ll be taking my business elsewhere.