Dunkin’ Runs on South Asian America

Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi immigrants have been a big part of the chain’s success. But as larger franchise networks take over, newer arrivals can no longer get their foot in the door.

Dunkin' location at night (Wikimedia Commons)
Dunkin' location at night (Wikimedia Commons)

Aarti Virani


August 2, 2021

Karishma Mehta was a 5-year-old in southeastern Tennessee when she joined her parents, Dunkin’ franchisees, on their daily crack-of-dawn commute. Before sunlight glazed the Appalachian peaks, they’d arrive at the doughnut shop. Her parents would bake and frost, bracing for the breakfast rush, while she slept on a mattress in the family van outside. “My mom would come do work in the car,” Mehta shared, recalling frenetic mornings in the mid-1990s. “That’s just how I spent some of my earlier years, seeing my parents try to do everything on their own.”

That suburban Chattanooga store, part of a vast Dunkin’ empire (the chain dropped “Donuts” from its name in 2018 to reflect an emphasis on other menu items), could be framed as a uniquely American achievement: coffee and confections served by hardscrabble Indian immigrants to predominantly white customers, from a company founded by a Jewish middle school dropout. Yet, such a triumphant portrayal doesn’t accurately reflect the Mehtas’ more volatile journey. Sure, America runs on Dunkin’, as the company’s iconic 2006 tagline proclaimed. But what — and more importantly, who — fuels Dunkin’?

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