Zingerman's Community of Businesses
At A Glance
|Where:||Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|What:||A branded group of eight food production, processing, service, and training businesses|
|Founders:||Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig|
|Number of employees:||525 (2008)|
“Who really believes they couldn’t live without a ten dollar corned beef sandwich?” chuckles Paul Saginaw, whose facetious question tries to explain why Zingerman’s emphasizes high- quality food and remarkable service. The surprising answer, though, is tens of thousands of people living in and around Ann Arbor, Michigan, rich and poor alike, who collectively spend about $27 million at one of the eight Zingerman’s companies.
Not bad for a 1,200 square foot deli that cleared sales of $100 on its first day of operations in 1982. Started by Paul and his partner, Ari Weinzweig, the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (ZCoB) has since expanded to include a catering company and events business (part of the original deli company founded in 1982), a bakery (1992), a consultancy called ZingTrain (1994), a mail order business (1994), a creamery (2001), a full-service restaurant called Zingerman’s Roadhouse (2003), a coffee roastery (2004), and Zingerman’s Service Network, the administrative business that supports all the companies. Together, these enterprises employ 525 people in this modest-sized university town.
Part of the quality formula is serving fresh, healthy, local food. The ZCoB takes advantage of Michigan’s diverse agriculture by using excellent local vegetables, fruits, hogs, chickens, eggs, and dairy products. For a time, they used only locally ground flour (that supplier moved). The Roadhouse restaurant boasts that it cooks almost entirely with American ingredients.
The Zingerman’s CoB is not only about selling local foods—it’s also about the art of producing them and integrating them into value-added products. The Bakehouse, for example, grew out of many frustrating years in search of quality and consistency in this vital item on the Deli’s menu. Paul and Ari, and Bakehouse managing partner Frank Carollo, sought out the baking expertise and training of Michael London of Greenwich, New York, and established what has since become one of the premier bakeries in the country.
For Paul and Ari, profits are really about underwriting community service. Among their proudest accomplishments has been the launch of Food Gatherers, which delivers over 2,000 pounds of surplus food six days a week to community agencies feeding people in need. In April 1995 they received the first Humanitarian Award from the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County. Last year, Food Gatherers was awarded a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator—it’s fifth consecutive year to earn this designation.
Paul and Ari’s easy-going, jocular style can obscure their highly disciplined planning and ambitious business ideas. Vision 2020, the most recent long-term planning document produced by the ZCoB partners, foresees establishing another 12-18 businesses over the next decade. Ideas currently include an Asian noodle bar, a Mexican restaurant, a Belgian-style brewery, a local farm for growing hard-to- find inputs, even a small boutique publishing company. There is also a proposal for a sliding scale restaurant, where residents with little or no income can buy healthy, local food served with care and dignity, and choose to pay whatever they can afford. (The idea has been prototyped by the restaurant One World, Everybody Eats in Salt Lake City and by the Sane Café in Denver.)
The one word that is not in Zingerman’s plans, and never has been, is “franchise:” Vision 2020 is very clear that whatever businesses ZCoB partners open, they will be based in Ann Arbor.