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Posted on Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Zingerman's sees its future in Ann Arbor: 'We've got a longterm vision and we're not going anywhere'

By Ryan J. Stanton


Zingerman's Deli, located at 422 Detroit St. in downtown Ann Arbor's historic Kerrytown district, as it looked in May 2010.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Before opening Zingerman's Deli in downtown Ann Arbor in March 1982, co-founders Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig wrote up a business plan on an old Smith Corona typewriter.

"It was about three or four pages," Saginaw recalled. "And in it, we said that we wanted to serve a really great corned-beef sandwich."

Saginaw grew up in Detroit and Weinzweig grew up in Chicago. They were used to neighborhood delicatessens where you could get a corned-beef sandwich worth bragging about.

"And here we were in Ann Arbor in the late '70s, and it was a wasteland for that kind of food," Saginaw said. "You couldn't find a real corned-beef sandwich."

That's the abridged story behind Zingerman's humble beginnings as Saginaw tells it. Three decades later, the iconic deli at 422 Detroit St., which recently expanded, is famous beyond Ann Arbor's borders, but its owners still have no plans of expanding outside Washtenaw County.


Zingerman's co-founder Paul Saginaw, right, speaks at a Wednesday night forum on economic vitality and sustainability at the Ann Arbor District Library. To his right is Mary Jo Callan, director of the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"We had many, many opportunities to sell the brand," Saginaw said. "In the beginning, offers came in right and left on a regular basis. 'Here's the check, we're gonna take Zingerman's, we're gonna open up in every Big Ten town, we're gonna open up in every big city.'

"Really it wasn't what we wanted to do," he said.

Saginaw spoke about Zingerman's past, present and future during a Wednesday night forum on economic vitality and sustainability. He was joined by four other speakers as part of the Sustainable Ann Arbor series put on by the city and the Ann Arbor District Library.

One of a kind

Aside from serving up corned-beef sandwiches, which Zingerman's still does today, Saginaw said the deli's original vision included a commitment to remaining unique.

"And for us, by definition, that meant there was only one of you," he said. "We decided … if we were going to grow or expand, we would never do it by replicating. It would never be a chain."

That's why Zingerman's Community of Businesses has stayed local, even now with 18 partners across eight businesses and about 600 employees. Saginaw said he expects Zingerman's to end this fiscal year in July with more than $47 million in sales.

"We're here to stay," he said. "We've got a longterm vision and we're not going anywhere."

Zingerman's not too long ago added about 26 acres to farm property it owns outside of Ann Arbor, and that's one part of the company's strategy for longterm sustainability.

"There's a pre-Civil War barn that we're taking down, shipping to Ohio to have rebuilt and coming back going on a new foundation," Saginaw said. "That'll be an event space. There'll be a demonstration garden there. There's an old Victorian house where we're going to have cooking classes in there, and private dinners in there, too, and also have farm dinners."


Customer loyalty to Ann Arbor-based Zingerman's Deli helped fuel this recent expansion of the locally owned eatery.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Then there's the herd of goats Zingerman's bought recently.

"We're growing our goat herd because the people who supply us with goat milk in Michigan are disappearing and we need to protect that supply," Saginaw said. "We also have bought a herd of Tunisian sheep because we have plans for opening a Tunisian restaurant."

Two years ago, Zingerman's also helped launch an Asian food cart at Mark's Carts called San Street, which is run by Ji Hye Kim. They're now looking for a brick-and-mortar location.

Saginaw said Zingerman's has a vision that takes the company out to the year 2020, and in many ways it's a reaffirmation of the original vision.

Zingerman's is going to focus on becoming a much greener organization, with the goal of having zero carbon footprint and zero waste within seven years, Saginaw said.

It's also going to strive for more racial diversity in its partners group. The plan is to grow to 15 to 18 businesses — all within Ann Arbor — in the coming years.

Succession plan

Saginaw said he and his business partners also have been working for two years on a succession plan for Zingerman's, and they've got that figured out now.

"Within the next year, we'll be an employee-owned organization," he said. "We will offer the opportunity for ownership to a large sector of our employees. There are qualifications on that. You have to have worked for a year, and we're working on that right now."

Zingerman's also is working on "bringing the bottom up," as Saginaw puts it. By that, he means it's a goal to have every employee earning what he calls a "thrive-able wage" within the next year.


Zingerman's Next Door, located literally next door to the deli on Detroit Street, advertises its Lemon Chess Pie, which the menu calls "a sunny treat for the winter time."

Ryan J. Stanton |

"We think a living wage is kind of a base minimum, and we want to have a wage our employees thrive on," he said.

Colleen Layton, director of policy development for the Michigan Municipal League, gave a presentation at Wednesday's forum that highlighted Zingerman's Deli as an example of what makes a community a great place to live and a great place for community gathering. She showed a photo of patrons filling the curbside picnic tables on the sidewalk outside the deli.

"Placemaking is about turning a neighborhood, town or city from a place you can't wait to get through into one you never want to leave. You know when you're there," she said. "The difference between great cities and good cities is the quality of their public spaces."

Buying local

Ingrid Ault, executive director of Think Local First, talked about the importance of supporting locally owned businesses like Zingerman's.

"There are lots of studies that indicate when you spend your money locally, it stays and recirculates in the community," she said. "One of the numbers you hear regularly is the multiplier effect: For every dollar that stays in our community, it recirculates three and four times."

And for every $100 spent at a local business, Ault said, about $68 stays and recirculates in the community, versus $43 that stays when that money is spent at a big-box retailer.

"That's a $25 difference," she said. "If that $25 is going to circulate three and four times more, all of a sudden your $100 means another $75 to $100 to your local economy."

Mary Jo Callan, director of the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development, also spoke to the importance of local businesses in economic terms.

"We know that traditional economic development where we vie for large, national and multi-national corporations looking for locations based on tax abatements and financial incentive packages isn't the way to build community or sustainable economic vitality," she said.


Ingrid Ault, left, executive director of Think Local First, and Colleen Layton, director of policy development for the Michigan Municipal League, spoke at Wednesday's forum.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"We know that growing and supporting locally owned businesses through patronage and investing — whether it's the next big thing in IT or the corner coffee shop — keeps more money in our local economy, creates more jobs, and creates a more resilient economy and community."

Paul Krutko, president and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK, said most talented college graduates are choosing where to work over whom to work for, and the quality of "where" is paramount.

"Many people talk about why Silicon Valley happened and why it continues to be successful," he said.

"This is the biggest reason: People from all over the world — regardless of where they came from, what community they work in, what their sexual preference is, what their political viewpoints are — find that they can come there and be free to express themselves and to find others they want to be with and work with. And I think that's something that Ann Arbor has and is going to be very key."

Giving back

Saginaw said he never had any interest in seeing Zingerman's grow to be the biggest business it could become. He said he cared more about staying local and building community.

"We believe that you earn your right to do business in a community, and you do that by being a responsible corporate citizen," he said.

Saginaw said giving back to the community — contributing to the social, cultural and educational vitality of Ann Arbor — was always part of the plan for Zingerman's, which established Food Gatherers, Washtenaw County's food rescue and food bank program, in 1988.

"We were going to build it into our budget from the beginning. It was a line item: rent, insurance, utilities, giving back to the community," he said. "And we felt that's the way a good business was going to operate. And if we weren't going to be able to do it from the beginning, then we thought that our business plan was flawed and we were going to go back and work on it again."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 6:44 p.m.

Would we they ever go anywhere? This town is a goldmine for Zings. Heck, they even have their own constant free P.R. from the city "newspaper" ...


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 11:39 p.m.

A lot of interesting businesses get coverage by the "newspaper." What is your problem with that?


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 6:42 p.m.

Regardless of all the perpetual moaning and hand-wringing over the prices at Zingerman's, and what a poor value their products are, I'll point out that their business model is a unabashed success — 18 partners, 600 employees, and 47 million in sales. That's MILLION, folks. And it's not all coming from out-of-towners. I, for one, am thankful that they are a part of this community.

Leah Gunn

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 6:32 p.m.

@ryan - definitely! :-)


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 6:27 p.m.

Their business plan is as confusing as their menu board.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 8:41 p.m.

The menu board is kind of busy, but they do hand out menus at the door to look over while you're waiting. Make sure you get one next time. The menu is online, too.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 7:16 p.m.

Eh. It's just really "busy" in there and everything to look at etc. Maybe I'll try the place when it's not so busy and I don't feel rushed.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 7 p.m.

their menu is sorted by types of meat in the sandwich--how could that possibly be confusing to a literate person?


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 6:02 p.m.

I don't mind paying a few bucks more for my food when I know the employee handing it to me has health and dental insurance, gain sharing, 401K and other benefits you can't get in other restaurant and retail jobs. Zingerman's employs 600 people in my community and takes good care of them.

Stevie Welles

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 4:37 p.m.

Zingerman's undoubtedly makes a good sandwich, and I applaud their efforts to pay a livable wage to their employees. But damn, I spent almost $20 on a sandwich (light meat), a bag of chips, and a soda, and I was still hungry afterward. I guess that's the price of progress...

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 3:36 p.m.

Ingrid Ault used some of her time at the podium to talk about the "triple bottom line," the idea that there are social, environmental and economic factors (people, planet, profit) to consider when we think about the kinds of businesses, products and endeavors we support with our wallets. So, sure we could probably get a really cheap meal from the frozen food aisle at Walmart instead of buying a more expensive sandwich from a local business, but are there other hidden costs on the environment and our community and our social wellbeing we should be factoring into our purchasing decisions? As one example, Ault pointed out locally owned independent businesses give significantly more back to the local community in charitable contributions. "It is something we need to be considering, because price is not the only consideration," she said. "Price is why we are where we are today, I do believe. When we've only been thinking about what something costs in a dollar amount, then we don't really understand the true cost to our community."

Bob Needham

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 3:22 p.m.

So happy to read all this. Zingerman's as an organization just keeps getting better and better. And Ryan, I agree on the prices -- while some may seem high, it all depends on how you look at it and what you compare them to. Bottom line -- when it comes to Zingerman's, I am more than happy to drink the heirloom, free-range, artisanal Kool-Aid.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 4:44 p.m.


Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 4:04 p.m.

Thanks for chiming in, Bob. That Kool-Aid sounds expensive.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 2 p.m.

Paul Saginaw says it's a goal to have every employee earning what he calls a "thrive-able wage" within the next year. "We think a living wage is kind of a base minimum, and we want to have a wage our employees thrive on," he said. City of Ann Arbor's living wage = $12.17/hour (city ordinance Chapter 23, Section 1:815). Interesting that Zingerman's Bakehouse was paying $8.00 per hour to newly hired bread bakers as of May 2010. (Many would consider the type of breads produced by Zingerman's to be a skilled job but that's quite a low wage.) At that time most bakers were earning $9.00 per hour after a year or so on the job. Consider too that these bakers also work in very demanding conditions - no air conditioning combined with very hot ovens makes for a dangerous work environment.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 1:58 p.m.

I have to confess, I have never had the corned-beef sandwich. I'm a veggie, so I go for the Sheila's Viva Las Vegan when I go to Zingerman's. For $11.50, I get a decent helping of hummus, artichokes, roasted red peppers and baby spinach on grilled farm bread, with a delicious old-style pickle on the side. I think it's well worth the $11.50, and I feel like I'm paying for what I'm getting. I almost always just get a water to drink, so I'm not spending an extra $2-$3 (I think that's where it's easy to waste money when you go out). Now here's where they get me: If they have it, I'll sometimes spend the extra $5.99 for the "Twigs and Berries" (organic wheat berries and sunflower sprouts with dried cherries, herbs, scallions and apple cider vinaigrette). It might be the most delicious thing in the world. If they don't have that, I'll go for Andy's Garbanzo Surprise for $4.50 (garbanzo beans, kalamata olives, cucumbers, piquillo peppers, herbs and loads of dressing made from Katz lemon oil and zinfandel vinegar). After that, I end up with a huge plate of high-quality food (usually enough to take some leftovers home if I want) for $16-$18. Sure, that's more than I like to spend per meal on average, and I wouldn't spend that much every day, but why not once every few weeks? How about the rest of you? What do you pay for your favorite meal at Zingerman's? And for those of you who don't go because you think it's overpriced, can you cite a few specific examples of what you think is overpriced? I always find it interesting that so many people are quick to say Zingerman's is overpriced, but you don't hear a lot about the $35 price tag for a steak on Main Street.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 11:37 p.m.

I think the sandwiches are worth the money, and maybe some of the comments come from prejudice about sandwiches being cheap food. The Roadhouse food, not so much.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

Chimay - Nice to see another veg chiming in! I can't do the Gemini because of the cheese, but I'm fine with sticking to the Viva Las Vegan (unless someone at Zingerman's is reading this and wants to put a second vegan sandwich on the menu, maybe something with tofu?) Leah - If I ever move away from Ann Arbor, feel free to add me to your Zingerman's mail order list.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.

Veg here too, so I've never had the corned beef sandwich. We often get the Viva Las Vegan and the Gemini Rocks the House. Two big sandwiches feeds our family of 4 (the offspring are little/elementary age). But, I end up spending only a touch more than I would on making a pot of risotto or soup. Not having to cook once in a while is worth the extra $2 - $5. Not to mention that it is one-stop shopping during the holidays. Most of my family, friends, and clients get gifts from Zingerman's.

Leah Gunn

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 2:20 p.m.

Actually, for me it's all about the bread - which I buy at the bakehouse and make my own sandwiches. And the mail order, for children who have moved away.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 1:51 p.m.

Yesterday there was a quote from Ms. Ault about how you "don't have to spend more, just differently" in the buy local scheme. And what example do we have here? Zingerman's. I'd challenge her to find a more expensive sandwich in the area. Again, it may (*may*) be worth it, but you will definitely spend more there. Bad example.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 1:04 p.m.

Good job Ryan! was due for an article about Zingerman's!!!


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 6:17 p.m.

There are other "major players" especially in the ann arbor community. I would say Knights could fall into the same type of category with both a restaurant and a meat market. And although there have been stories, they are not weekly columns like Zingerman's gets. If you mean "major players" as influence outside of Ann Arbor, then Zingerman's is different in that respect. All that aside, I would like to see more stories on OTHER ann arbor businesses that have been serving the community for an extended period of time (the places that could actually use a little free publicity). For example, did a story on Dimos, I thought that was more then appropriate and would like to see other similarly situated entities profiled. I would venture to guess that there have been at least, if not more, stories about Zingermans's then every other, medium to small, business in the community combined. Kyle- Major players in our area? You mention; one multi-billion (maybe trillion) dollar university; behemoth, a pizza company with over 10,000 stores in 70 different countries: auto suppliers (whens the last time there has been a story on auto suppliers on, nonetheless about the same one multiple times), and zinger mans. I would say comparing zingermans to Domino's and the U is a bit of a stretch. As for auto suppliers, i cannot even compare them because the lack of any sort of specificity in your statement. Get Real.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 4:10 p.m.

I don't think Kyle is saying Zingerman's is the kind of global economic powerhouse that GM is — just that it's a major player in the Ann Arbor community, in some ways like GM's presence in Detroit. But while the Detroit Free Press has a full-time GM reporter (former reporter Nathan Bomey), we'll probably never have a full-time Zingerman's reporter. But you can still count on a story or two on Zingerman's once in a while. They're always well read.

Chester Drawers

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 2:30 p.m.

Just like GM in Detroit? REALLY???

Kyle Mattson

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 2:12 p.m.

Hi deb- Just like GM in Detroit, Zingerman's has a signifiant economic, employment, and cultural role in Ann Arbor. So we'll continue to cover them as such, same as we do with other organizations that play a large role in our community such a Domino's, auto suppliers and the U.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 1:51 p.m.

Right. It's been a week

Dug Song

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 12:46 p.m.

Paul and Ari rock! We would not have moved the Duo office to Kerrytown, one block from Zingermans, if they weren't there. They're the soul of the neighborhood. Ji Hye, will reach out on FB. The Rents Are Too Damn High! @Borisgoodenough - all of these things can be achieved by a successful business. The Zing business model - providing an uncompromisingly great food experience for an affluent clientele - isn't the point, although it's great that it works so well here. It's their shared success model (company, community, people) that is replicable, or at least adaptable, to many businesses. I'm glad to have such role models in our community!


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 4:42 p.m.

shared success model ---> exactly right, coupled with a commitment to quality and an always stellar experience, whether you are ordering a bagel at the deli or a full on meal at the roadhouse. i appreciate their sustainable, creative vision and all they give back to the community. they are an important part of what makes ann arbor so special to me. thank you, ari and paul!

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 12:41 p.m.

Wow. Reading the "One of a kind" section was interesting for me. Saginaw talks about not growing the business outside of Washtenaw County, but he sure has big plans here: a Tunisian restaurant, a permanent San Street location, the farm plans, zero carbon footprint, etc. $47M in sales!! That's pretty incredible for a local business.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 12:32 a.m.

Yeah, they must've sold like HUNDREDS of their sandwiches.

An Arborigine

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 4:15 p.m.

@Lizzy, remember $47M Zing dollars = $30M dollars at normal prices.

Leah Gunn

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 12:09 p.m.

Giving back - Paul Saginaw founded Food Gatherers, which serves 150 food pantries throughout Washtenaw County. I can't believe that this was not mentioned. They also generously sponsor many, many other non profit events. Their commitment to the community also includes the training of at risk youth to be food handlers in the community kitchen at the Delonis Center, and they provide jobs to many young people in the community. For what you pay, you get a high quality product and outstanding customer service. They will "make it right for you", and in my experience, they always do.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 2:59 p.m.

I just went back in the story and added a mention for Food Gatherers. It's never too late. Thanks for the push!


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 2:15 p.m.

I've asked Zingerman's for things for various nonprofits many times. They've never said no. People say they are overpriced. Considering the quality of the food and the service and what they give back to the community, it's actually one of the best deals in town. For those bashing the Roadhouse: Go there. Right now. Order the Huevos Rancheros.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 12:56 p.m.

I totally agree! Recently, I had an opportunity to realize just how committed Zingerman's is to "Making it right!" They aim to please and they are helping ALL of us who live in Ann Arbor by what they do for our community! Thank you, Ari andPaul!

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 12:50 p.m.

Leah, thanks for pointing out those efforts. No one can argue Zingerman's commitment to the community runs deep. And you're right, I probably should have mentioned its role in founding Food Gatherer's, which I've written about before. As you noted, Zingerman's does a lot of other things in the community, and I didn't have a complete list of those philanthropic endeavors at my fingertips when I wrote this story last night after the forum. I was just poking around on Zingerman's website. Here's a link to its Community Giving page, which explains its philosophy a little and even lets organizations request donations:


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 12:02 p.m.

They're not going anywhere because very few outside of Ann Arbor would pay for their overpriced food products. They still make a great corned beef sandwich that I don't mind paying for, but their baked goods are not anywhere near worth the money they charge for them. The Roadhouse is not worth the money either; a few memorable menu items when they're done right, but there's more I wish I could forget, especially given what I paid for them. Wouldn't make my top 25 places to eat in/around Ann Arbor.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 11:34 p.m.

Regarding the baked goods - just my opinion, but their bread introduced my tastebuds to what bread could taste like. I consider their bread to be a whole food group unto itself. :)


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 8:03 p.m.

Just one of the many reasons that Walter is spectacularly wrong: you know that line that goes out the door, around the corner, and down the block on football Saturdays? The overwhelming majority of those people live "outside of Ann Arbor." Zingerman's is a destination for people who visit here, and people who go there once typically go back again (and again). Their prices really aren't that bad, especially when you compare them to the extortion being committed on Main Street. It's purely a myth that Zingerman's (the Deli, the roadhouse, or any of their other businesses) are particularly expensive — quite simply, you pay a bit more for high quality. If you think it's expensive, you're accustomed to lower quality. Do I go to Zingerman's regularly? Not really. It's a place I take people when they visit from out of town. But do I enjoy the hell out of the times that I do go? Absolutely. And I've never felt like I got gouged on the prices, either. So Walter, and the rest of you who repeat the mantra that Zingerman's is too expensive ... just keep going to Arby's. I hear their sandwiches are far less expensive.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 6:02 p.m.

@Walter What makes your guess an "educated guess"?


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 3:43 p.m.

I don't think success of a mail order business necessarily demonstrates a reach outside of Ann Arbor. I would wager that a good chunk of that mail order business comes from UofM alum, but I'm not an insider so that's just an educated guess.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 1:22 p.m.

I believe their mail order business is quite successful, demonstrating that many people outside of Ann Arbor DO pay for their products. I have to imagine that the Deli and the Roadhouse are not their primary source of income at this point.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 11:47 a.m.

It takes nothing away from what Zingerman's founders have accomplished to point out that their business model depends entirely on the willingness of a sizable affluent clientele willing to pay ultra-premium (some might say excessive) prices for high quality products. Without that, all the discussions of such goals as "thriving" wages, sustainability, and zero energy emissions are out the window. In other words, it's a great model -- but one with limited real-world replicability.