Sat­is­fac­tion Guar­an­teed: How Zinger­man’s Built a Cor­ner Deli into a Glob­al Food Community

  • Review
By – January 29, 2023

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.

Gila Wertheimer is Asso­ciate Edi­tor of the Chica­go Jew­ish Star. She is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has been review­ing books for 35 years.

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