Forty years ago two Jewish guys met and decided to open a Jewish deli. Not in New York but in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a Midwestern college town where there wasn’t any such business yet. They called their deli Zingerman’s, a name that belonged to neither one of them.
With their unique decision-making style, those two young men – Ari Weinzweig from Chicago, and Paul Saginaw from Detroit – built on success after success, expanding that deli into a multi-faceted business with a pre-Covid valuation of $65 million and a following well beyond Ann Arbor.
They began with a bank loan of $20,000 (with a 22% interest rate), a love of food, minimal business experience, and a great deal of enthusiasm.
Much has changed in forty years, but the guiding principles Weinzweig and Saginaw articulated for the original deli have remained intact, namely: good food, good service, and good finances. As part of those principles, the two men sought constant improvement, explored new avenues and products, refined their business practices, and demonstrated their commitment to the community.
Although Weinzweig and Saginaw make no pretense of their Jewish-style deli being kosher, their devotion to bacon will be disconcerting for some readers. (The store runs a yearly event called Camp Bacon, and in 2009, Ari Weinzweig, “one of the country’s leading proponents of bacon,” according to the author, published Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon.) With no indication of any contradiction, the owners maintain that Jewish food is still “the core of our identity,” now and into the future.
Author Micheline Maynard has devoted the majority of Satisfaction Guaranteed to the business of Zingerman’s, which took its cues not from the food industry but from the auto industry, in particular, from the business philosophy and practices of Toyota. The result has been a unique business approach and corporate structure that has built satisfaction and loyalty not only in its customers but in its staff and managing partners. Zingerman’s had its failures and its rough patches even before Covid, but managed to get through those and learn from their experiences.
That original corner deli has expanded to include a bakery, a restaurant, a coffee company, and a creamery. Zingerman’s makes its own cheeses and gelatos, offers mail order items, catering, business-training seminars, cooking classes, and food tours, and the list goes on.
It’s a remarkable business story and Maynard has mixed business details with personal stories in an enjoyably buoyant style.