The first time I found myself in Ann Arbor, my husband and I were visiting a friend at the University of Michigan. Wanting to give us the complete “Ann Arbor Experience,” our friend took us to Zingerman’s Deli, promising us some amazing sandwiches and basically, automatic Ann Arbor street cred.
As we made our way towards the deli, our anticipation quickly deflated when we rounded the corner and saw it: a line that flooded out the front door of the deli, stretching around the building and plum clear to Tuesday (translation: it was a really long line).
Because we were short on time and couldn’t budget the wait into our schedule that day, the three of us admitted defeat and left for a backup restaurant, sadly discarding the idea (at least for the time being) of enjoying a real Zingerman’s sandwich.
Fast forward a couple of years, and guess what? Still no Zingerman’s. My husband and I had probably been back to Ann Arbor a handful of times since that initial trip, but for some reason, the occasion to just take time for a sandwich never happened. This repeated misstep was an obvious mistake on our part, but you know what? This story ain’t over yet.
The other day, as I was searching for new places to visit in Ann Arbor, a quick internet search brought me that all-too-familiar name. I clicked on the Zingerman’s search result for a list of deli hours, and holy cow–my impression of the company changed instantly. Rather than finding “just” a deli, I learned that Zingerman’s was actually a lot of different brands–all food or food-business related–and that there were multiple locations spread out all over Ann Arbor. Putting together a rough itinerary, I hopped in the car and ventured down the road to find out just what makes Zingerman’s so unique.
Zingerman’s: The Business
Founded in 1982 by Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw, Zingerman’s Delicatessen has been an Ann Arbor (and national) favorite for over thirty years. This widely-successful venture, however, is just the tip of the iceberg for the company’s nine-business (and counting!) portfolio. To date, the Zingerman’s company also umbrellas a bakehouse, coffee company, mail order service, roadhouse, creamery, catering and event service, and candy manufactory, among others–all of which are operated independently within the company. These businesses (which employ well over 500 people) are all located within Washtenaw County–and according to the owners, the plan to remain local isn’t changing any time soon.
During my visit to Ann Arbor, I was fascinated to learn how all businesses under the Zingerman’s brand also serve as each other’s suppliers and customers. Because all supplies and profits are ordered and tallied separately among Zingerman’s businesses, these businesses cannot simply “borrow” from other parts of the company. Whether it’s the deli buying bread from the bakehouse, the coffee company ordering marshmallows from the candy manufactory, or the bakehouse serving Zingerman’s creamery-made dairy products alongside its bagel selection, each business’ spending essentially fuels others within Zingerman’s. Because this model has worked out so well for the company, Zingerman’s offers its own “Zing Train” consulting program, which provides seminars and training tools for companies interested in following the brand’s example.
Zingerman’s: The Experience
So, while all that business jargon might seem fine and dandy on the surface, how does it really translate into overall customer experience? Here are my takeaways on some of Zingerman’s popular locations:
Zingerman’s Coffee Company
As soon as I walked in the door to the Coffee Company, a barista noticed the camera hanging around my neck and greeted me with, “All pictures taken must be shared on Instagram and tagged on Facebook.” Making a quick friend, I asked what was good and was pleased to hear suggestions for his specialties–a s’mores latte and a latte with house-made vanilla syrup. Getting one of each, my husband and I took a seat and admired the bright, ethnic-inspired cafe as we sampled and enjoyed two delicious espressos.
Overall Impression: Friendly staff with great expertise, relaxing atmosphere, and utterly delicious cold-weather beverages.
The creamery, while small, was packed with a wide selection of cheese, beer, and gelato. The people behind the counter were, again, very accommodating and enthusiastically answered every question I had–even when the tidal wave of customers suddenly showed up (don’t worry, they were helped, too). While chatting up the man and woman behind the counter, I learned that the creamery is preparing to relocate across the street for access to new and improved machinery. Tempted to stay for some gelato, I realized I still had my vanilla latte to finish and was saving room for dinner. So, it was time to move on.
Overall Impression: Welcoming, knowledgeable staff, unique product selection, and small, but sweet.
Zingerman’s Bakehouse & Candy Manufactory
Okay, I know I told you that the first two places I visited were welcoming, but the Zingerman’s Bakehouse took that hospitality to a whole new level. After setting us up with some parmesan peppercorn and cranberry walnut bread samples, the staff treated us to a private tour for behind-the-scenes, bread-making magic. I learned that thousands of loaves are hand-made each day, everything is packaged and labeled in-house, and anything that needs to be shipped (this goes for all other Zingerman’s establishments) is sent across town to the mail order building. The bakehouse also specializes in everything from cookies to wedding cakes, and is home to the Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory. Say it with me in a Candy Crush voice: Sweet.
Overall Impression: The bakeshop is large and in charge! There’s more to it than what meets the eye, and enough heavenly smells to keep you coming back again and again.
Zingerman’s Delicatessen & Next Door Coffeehouse
It was finally time! With no crazy lines in sight, I walked into Zingerman’s Deli to claim the sandwich I had waited years for. Walking through the front part of the shop (a meat shop), I made my way down a hall filled with countless Michigan food products, then came upon the sandwich counter, a mountain of sandwich options standing before me. I ordered a ham sandwich called “Jimmy Wants Rosemary’s Baby” (that’s fun to say out loud), while my husband went with a beef brisket sandwich and baked beans. We high-tailed it upstairs to one of the dining areas, our food was delivered to our table, and we enjoyed our freshly-prepared meals without a hitch. Afterwards, I was directed to the Next Door Coffeehouse, where my leftovers were wrapped up for me as I browsed chocolates and Zingerman’s souvenirs in another comfortable cafe.
Overall Impression: Delicious, fresh ingredients; a bit pricey, but special. Nice, casual atmosphere with creativity flowing out of every nook and cranny.
Have you been to any (or all) of the Zingerman’s establishments? Comment below with your favorite shops and meal choices!