Practicing Different Religions (but United on the Issue of Pork)

THE NEW YORK TIMES —November 16, 2007

Sam Habib, a Muslim, and Cindy Gluck, who is Jewish, on the job.

Sam Habib, a Muslim, and Cindy Gluck, who is Jewish, on the job.

ON the morning in August 2005 when Sam Habib and Cindy Gluck opened their first Dunkin’ Donuts, they awoke at dawn to make sure that the glazed fritters and French crullers were out on the counter. Then Mr. Habib sneaked off to the neighboring mosque to pray, and Ms. Gluck, panicky about the prospects of their new venture, went to the back of the store to cry.

Mr. Habib, a bearish 47-year-old with a warm smile, is a Muslim immigrant from Egypt, and Ms. Gluck, 34, is a slim, petite Orthodox Jew from Borough Park, Brooklyn. Both had sunk their entire savings into buying the franchise, on a busy stretch of Church Avenue at East 17th Street in Flatbush.

It was a terrifying gamble. The two had known each other only a few months when Mr. Habib, who says he dreamed for decades of running a Dunkin’ Donuts, asked Ms. Gluck, a real estate broker he had met while looking for a location, to join him in business. He knew she was an Orthodox Jew but said he didn’t care.

Technically, Ms. Gluck is a silent partner, owner of just 49 percent of the business, but as Mr. Habib is quick to point out, there is nothing silent about her.

“I let him make all the decisions,” Ms. Gluck said.

“Really?” Mr. Habib replied, with raised eyebrows.

Sam Habib, whose first name is short for Essam, arrived in New York in 1982 with only the change he had in his pocket. He sold his return ticket home to pay rent and went to work in the kitchens of Brooklyn restaurants.

Cindy Gluck (her real name is Hindy) grew up in Hasidic Williamsburg, in a family that she says were so poor, they often couldn’t afford to eat. At 20, she was married off to a man of her parents’ choosing; four children later, she went into real estate to try to make some money.

“I had never met a Muslim before,” Ms. Gluck said the other day, sitting with her partner in the small office at the back of the Church Avenue store, a space heavy with the aroma of baking croissants. “The first thing I wanted to know was: ‘What kind of Muslim are you?’”

Mr. Habib chimed in with a laugh: “All her friends told her that she should be careful that her crazy terrorist Arab partner doesn’t put bombs in her packages.”

Under the ground rules the pair worked out before making their partnership official, Ms. Gluck takes off Saturdays to celebrate the Sabbath, and Mr. Habib worships at the mosque every Friday. The doughnuts come from a kosher bakery in Borough Park. On Jewish holidays, Mr. Habib technically owns the entire business because Ms. Gluck is not allowed to earn money on those days.

And there is one edict they both obey. “Neither of us is allowed to enjoy the profits of the pork,” Ms. Gluck said. Any money the business makes on the sale of bacon, sausage or ham — foods that are forbidden in both their religions — is split and given away, hers to her synagogue and to Israel, his to the workers as bonuses.

The pair’s hard work has paid off; last year they opened a second franchise, on Flatbush and Sixth Avenues in Park Slope.

Both partners are married and have four children of exactly the same ages: 5, 8, 10 and 12. Mr. Habib has taught Ms. Gluck a few words of Arabic, and she has taught him how to say “good night” in Hebrew.

Mr. Habib often says a business partnership is like a marriage, and he acts accordingly; when he travels home to Egypt, he brings Ms. Gluck little gifts.

“You brought me that Muslim dress,” she recalled.

“It wasn’t a Muslim dress,” he replied with exasperation. “It was, I don’t know, a Nefertiti style or something. Ask my wife.”

Because of a contract dispute, Mr. Habib and Ms. Gluck are in the process of selling the stores back to Dunkin’ Donuts, but they will operate both for the next few months. And when their doughnut days are done, they plan to continue working together.

“She’s Jewish and I’m Muslim,” Mr. Habib said. “That doesn’t stop us from creating a business.”

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