An inside look at Zingerman’s with Ann Arbor author Micheline Maynard
David Fair: We all have, at one time or another, enjoyed the amazing food at Zingerman's in Ann Arbor. I'm David Fair, and I'm happy to say we have an author with us who has penned what is likely to become the definitive publication on the long time Ann Arbor favorite. The book comes out today, and it's called "Satisfaction Guaranteed: how Zingerman's Built a Corner Deli Into a Global Food Community." The person who penned this book is an experienced national reporter and writer in his living and writing from Ann Arbor. She's authored a number of business-related books and is a noted food writer. You've read her bylines in The Washington Post, New York Times, and other publications. The bylines always read "Micheline Maynard" but, in the course of everyday life, she goes by Micki, and thank you so much for being here, Micki.
Micheline Maynard: Thank you. What a wonderful introduction.
David Fair: I would imagine that this is one of those exciting days in the life of an author that the book officially comes out, but maybe I'm projecting just a little bit and making assumptions. Maybe there's some nervousness or anxiety. What does publication day like for you?
Micheline Maynard: Well, we call it "book birthday" in the author world, and it's a very exciting day. I mean, a couple of weeks ago, I got two big boxes of my book, in which I was very relieved to get because I don't know if you heard about the the shipping containers that went to the bottom of the sea, and two cookbook authors lost all their books.
David Fair: And you were thinking, maybe you too, huh?
Micheline Maynard: I was so relieved to hear the thunk on the front porch, and you open the box, and you look at your book for the first time. And my book has super cute illustrations—
David Fair: It sure does.
Micheline Maynard: Of Zingerman's Deli, the original deli. And if you look in the doorway, you'll see Ari and Paul. And so, it's always a thrill.
David Fair: You've not only been a Zingerman's consumer, but you've taken a number of classes there and appear to have developed a relationship with the company and its offerings. Did you go into this particular project with any assumptions or preconceived notions?
Micheline Maynard: No. I have seen kind of the range of Zingerman's, and I've written about them for a number of places. I wrote a story in 2007 for The New York Times, which, at the time, celebrated Zingerman's 25th anniversary, and here we are at the 40 year anniversary.
David Fair: 40 right around the corner. Yeah.
Micheline Maynard: So, I wasn't there at the very beginning. I was living in other places, but when I got back from living in Washington, D.C. In the mid-1990s, one of the first things I wanted to do was go and visit Zingerman's and take some of those classes.
David Fair: What was most surprising to you in all of your research discoveries for this book?
Micheline Maynard: What was so surprising was that a number of the people that founded Zingerman's in 1982 are still at Zingerman's, and this is a company that, especially if you've become a managing partner, which is the leadership of one of their individual businesses, you know, about half those people were right there at the beginning or joined very shortly after the beginning. But another thing that I found very surprising was that Zingerman's continues to attract new players, new people with new ideas. And even though people think of Zingerman's as just the little deli on the corner of Detroit Street, it has a tremendous reach across the city of Ann Arbor and in Washtenaw County, but also a big network around the world.
David Fair: Mail order was a huge part of getting that part of the business launched.
Micheline Maynard: Right. And the interesting thing is the formal mail order company didn't really start until about 1999, when they started Zingerman's dot com. People used to call the deli and order something, and they would put it in a box and take it to the post office. And then, once they decided to do a formal mail order company, that's when things really took off. And now mail order is more than 40 percent of the revenues of Zingerman's.
David Fair: And it's a $70 million a year company that literally has global reach.
Micheline Maynard: Right. And the interesting thing about mail order is that mail order followed some of the production ideas from Toyota, because people over there worked at Toyota and then also graduate students with relationships with Toyota came in and helped them streamline their operations. So, as an old automotive reporter, it just rang bells with me.
David Fair: And it goes to show that the leadership at Zingerman's has always been willing to remain open to new ideas to embrace them and then put them forth in their own unique way.
Micheline Maynard: They never dismiss an idea out of hand. In fact, that's one of the instructions. You know, the response is, "That's interesting. Tell me more." And while they don't do everything that everybody recommends, they do a great deal of the things that people recommend. I talk about a juicer that they put into the Roadhouse because the employees were having trouble making juice, and they had to go through a whole process. But they did put in the juicer, and I get the limeade regularly.
David Fair: Awesome.
Micheline Maynard: The limeade is made from that juicer, so it worked.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and we're talking with author and Ann Arbor resident Micki Maynard about her book, which comes out today. It's called "Satisfaction Guaranteed: How Zingerman's Built a Corner Deli into a Global Food Community." The community of businesses does have its own way of running things. What sets Zingerman's apart?
Micheline Maynard: The first thing that people should know about Zingerman's is that there was a conscious decision to keep it here to keep it in Ann Arbor and in Washtenaw County. They could have had the opportunity many, many times to replicate the deli. There could have been delis in New York and Chicago, and Chicago is big fan base for Zingerman's. They did a pop-up there a couple of years ago, and they got 2000 people down the street for Zingerman's sandwiches, but they made a conscious decision to keep it in Ann Arbor and much discussion about that. And I think that's what makes it very, very unique. It has sunk roots into Ann Arbor, if you drive around Ann Arbor, you see outposts of the University of Michigan just about every part of town. Zingerman's is a little bit like that. There's the deli, which people think about. But then there's that whole office parks south by the airport and then the mail order complex, which is about a mile away. And then there are restaurants and other businesses sprinkled across the city.
David Fair: I don't know that many people are aware of this, but Micki Maynard was sister-in-law to our All Things Considered host Lisa Barry, who unexpectedly passed away in November of last year. We're not only sorry for your family's loss, but we deeply share in your grief.
Micheline Maynard: Thank you. Really appreciate that.
David Fair: Now, one of Lisa's favorite regular guests was one of the owners and founders, and that being Ari Weinzweig. He would frequently appear on WEMU with Lisa, but they wouldn't talk necessarily food or business. They would talk about life. How does life philosophy in the working relationship between Ari and his co-founder and co-owner Paul Saginaw play into the construct and mission of Zingerman's?
Micheline Maynard: Well, first of all, Ari and Lisa had a very fun and precious relationship, and it was really something to watch. In terms of Ari and Paul, Paul and I are kind of simpatico because I was a business journalist, and I read a million business management books, and, you know, we could talk almost in shorthand about running the company. Ari, I call him the philosopher king, although he would hate to be called a king. He's a very thoughtful person, and people who read his weekly newsletter will see all kinds of interesting and sometimes esoteric references to people across the world that you would never think of in the context of food. And I think the two relationships work very well together. You have Ari always thinking about the greater good, and you have Paul trying to figure out how do you translate that greater good into something that keeps the company going.
David Fair: A very functional yin and yang.
Micheline Maynard: So, it's a fascinating relationship, and it's the kind of thing that when you have one founder whose whims are always followed, a lot of people can get disgruntled. But the nice thing about Zingerman's is that pretty much everybody in the company knows Paul or knows Ari. They've been mentors to people in the company. If they need to talk about something specifically financial, they might talk to Paul. If they want to talk about life, they go talk to Ari. And that's unusual for many, many places.
David Fair: Speaking of unusual, as they approach their March 40th anniversary of the opening of Zingerman's Deli, it is unusual for owners to be involved that long. Is there a forward thinking process for what Zingerman's will become and perhaps a plan of succession?
Micheline Maynard: Yes. So, people may know that Paul actually has opened his own deli in Las Vegas in the last year. It's called Saginaw's. And if you go and eat there, it's in a brand new hotel called the Circa. You'll actually see a life-size, bigger-than-life Statue of Paul's. Kind of the Big Boy, except it's Paul. So, Paul is trying a third act. He and Ari have talked a lot about what happens when the two of them are gone, and they're nowhere near that. But they're in their 60s and almost 70. They're thinking that what they would like to do is have the managing partners of all those businesses collectively control Zingerman's, and that's going to still take some structure. And they're also talking about a plan where the public could buy shares at risk of Zingerman's. And we're not talking about crypto or anything like that, but that you or I, if we wanted to invest in Zingerman's, we could do so. That's not ready, but they've been working on it. Well, one of the things I learned in writing the book is when the pandemic started and they were in a cash crunch that Paul reached out to some of his contacts in the financial world. And he was assured that, if they needed money, that there were investors in New York and Detroit and Chicago and elsewhere that would be happy to put money into Zingerman's, and they luckily didn't need it. But the interest in the Zingerman's brand is tremendous.
David Fair: Once again, we're talking with Micki Maynard, author of "Satisfaction Guaranteed: How Zingerman's Built a Corner Deli into a Global Food Community." As we've mentioned, the book officially comes out today, and coming up tonight you'll be appearing on the Literati Bookstore's Zoom webinar, and in a rather unique turn, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell is going to be interviewing you. How did that come about?
Micheline Maynard: Well, she offered. I was delighted. Debbie is a huge fan of Zingerman's. She talks to Ari and Paul on a regular basis. I was telling her about the book, and she just raised her hand and said, "I'd be happy to do it."
David Fair: And then, you have an event at the Zingerman's Roadhouse tomorrow at 7:00, and that's a live event for the first time in two years.
Micheline Maynard: Yes. Zingerman's Roadhouse. I've been to many of those dinners and met lots and lots of people in the food world. And, tomorrow night, it gets to be me, and there'll be lots of appetizers, some presentations by myself. Pete Bigelow, the writer for Automotive News, will be interviewing me. I'll sign books for anybody who wants one. I think it'd be kind of fun for people to come out. I mean, people aren't going a lot of places, but I think they'll feel safe and have fun coming to Zingerman's Roadhouse tomorrow night.
David Fair: Well, I'd like to thank you for the time. Thank you for sharing your experience with this book and with this community, and I look forward to hearing how all the events went.
Micheline Maynard: It was a real pleasure. Thank you, David.
David Fair: That is Micheline--Micki--Maynard, author of "Satisfaction Guaranteed: How Zingerman's Built a Corner Deli into a Global Food Community." It is published by Scribner and available today at Amazon, participating local bookstores, and at the Zingerman's press website. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM and WEMU HD One Ypsilanti.
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