University of Food Diversity: Zingerman's feeds sophisticated tastes in Ann Arbor
Don’t tell Ari Weinzweig that you can’t build a world-renowned gourmet food business in a small Midwestern city. After graduating from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Weinzweig, along with partner Paul Saginaw, launched Zingerman’s Delicatessen in the sleepy college town in 1982 with a $20,000 bank loan, a staff of two and a love of good food.
Today, Zingerman’s attracts over 500,000 visitors a year and has expanded to include a bakehouse, restaurant (the Zingerman’s Roadhouse), creamery, catering business, book press, coff ee roaster, consulting business, candy manufacturer and a working farm with event facilities. Zingerman’s also does a booming mail-order business (Zingermans.com) and organizes international culinary tours. In 2007, Weinzweig and Saginaw were recognized with Lifetime Achievement Awards for work in the food industry by Bon Appétit magazine.
When I asked Weinzweig why he chose to build his food empire in Ann Arbor (instead of, say, Chicago, where he is originally from), he simply explained, “Because I like it here.” After a trip to Zingerman’s, we can guarantee that you will, too.
Edible Michiana: How would you describe your perfect Saturday in Ann Arbor?
Ari Weinzweig: For me it would be somewhere between June and September, when the weather might be really nice and the farmers market would be fi lled with local produce. I usually start my Saturdays at about 7am, working at the back table at Zingerman’s Next Door [the Zingerman’s coff ee shop, literally “next door” to the deli]. Later on, some time at home, a long run, working the fl oor at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, cooking dinner at home with my girlfriend Tammie.
EM: Where do you take out-of-town guests (other than Zingerman’s, of course)?
AW: As a shy introvert I don’t really go out much. But I send people to the Ark [Ann Arbor’s acclaimed folk music venue], the University of Michigan Art Museum, the historic Michigan Theater. Also, the Arboretum, walking around Kerrytown (shops and markets in historic buildings just across from Zingerman’s Deli and the farmers market), downtown Ann Arbor or Depot Town in nearby Ypsilanti (a historic district with shops, food and museums).
EM: What do you love most about living in Ann Arbor?
AW: I love Ann Arbor because we have so much great art, music, intellectual and creative activity and energy—lots of interesting people and a lot of internationally diverse presence—yet we’re a pretty small town that takes at most 15 minutes to drive across. Th e farmers markets are great; lots of good food. Lots of park access if you want it. Add in all the athletic activity, which brings even more interesting people and energy. And because we’re so close to a major airport (Detroit Metro), we have easy access to most places in the world with direct flights.
EM: What Zingerman’s item is most popular with locals?
AW: Hard to say what’s “most popular,” but top sellers include the Reuben and Georgia Reubens at the Deli; the Paesano, Farm and Rye breads and Magic Brownies at the Bakehouse; the handmade cream cheese and goat cheese at the Creamery; the espresso at the Coffee Company; fried chicken, Eastern North Carolina pork barbecue and the donut sundae at the Roadhouse; Zzang candy bars and handmade peanut brittle from the candy company. And of course with mail order we can ship to anyone who moves away but wants to stay a local at heart.
EM: How can you tell a local from a tourist at Zingerman’s?
AW: Locals know where they’re going without asking or they know what they want and aren’t afraid to ask for tastes or help to find it. They know that at Zingerman’s we give tastes of anything free for the asking. First time guests usually don’t know that and are more likely to be a bit overwhelmed by the wide range of food and drink we have to offer.
WORTH THE SPLURGE
I'll say right up front that it's easy to drop a lot of cash at Zingerman's–Ann Arbor, Michigan's gourmet mecca. But don't let that discourage you. A trip to Zingerman's–just a short drive from Michiana–is worth every penny for any serious food lover. Here's why:
•It's not just a store or a deli (or a bakehouse, coffee shop or creamery). Between the killer sandwiches at the legendary deli (Edible Michiana recipe editor Tara Swartzendruber-Landis and I devoured the "Carlos' 33 1/3": house-made porchetta rubbed with fennel pollen and marash pepper, topped with garlic mayo and served on a Bakehouse onion roll) and the shelves packed with specialty items that you won't find almost anywhere else (olive oil from New Zealand? Yes, of course, they have it), a day at Zingerman's is a culinary experience. I'm not sure I've ever had more fun shopping.
• You don't have to buy it to enjoy it–though you'll probably want to because everything Zingerman's carries is pretty much the best of its kind. Zingerman's knowledgeable staff eagerly offers up samples of anything in the store. I mean anything. I probably tried eight different kinds of honey, five olive oils and six vinegars–and that was just in one aisle. (I even asked for a taste of their acorn-fed pork lard because, well, that's just the kind of thing I do. Zingerman's, of course, was happy to oblige.)
• Even if you spend most of what's in your piggy bank (and, let's face it, I did because I could not resist the pine honey from Provence, a jar of Basque piparras [little green peppers that take me right back to Spain], a pound of mind-blowing Ethiopian coffee and a selection of first-class artisanal chocolate), you've just traveled the world and you're only a couple of hours from home.
Heading to Zingerman’s? Look for our sister publication Edible WOW to learn more about the best local food and drink in Ann Arbor and Southeast Michigan.