05 / 05 / 2020

We’ll Have What They’re Serving (or Where Quality Meets Levity)

A popular deli has grown and prospered over the decades by doing business the right way and having fun, too.

Carey Smith | Founding Contrarian

If you’ve never eaten at Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Mich., you owe it to yourself to pay a visit, and not just for the food. (Though Oprah did once rate its brisket an 11 on a scale of one to five, I heard.) Zingerman’s business model has earned heaps of praise through the years, too. Any entrepreneur who visits and isn’t inspired should seriously consider another line of work.

The owners know they’ve built something special and share their philosophy on their website. One of them has even written several books. But, to us, the deli’s success relies on a few fundamentals that apply to any business venture.

Service: First-class. Ask to sample, say, the raw cow’s milk cheese, and an employee will enthusiastically inform you why it was chosen, how it compares to other cheeses, and about the family that milks those cows. They know their stuff. And if you ask for something Zingerman’s doesn’t have on hand, chances are it will be there next time you visit. In other words, they listen to their customers.

Quality: Unsurpassed. On their website is an explanation of why their sandwiches cost what they do — quality is sacrosanct. To Zingerman’s, cutting costs to keep down prices would be like the Louvre selling the Mona Lisa to lower the cost of admission.

Culture: Slightly irreverent. How can you not smile when you hear the name? From its website graphics to its sandwich names, Zingerman’s is fun and often pays homage to an employee/creator: Benny & Zach’s Bagel Over Tokyo or Jimmy Wants Rosemary’s Baby. (In case you’re wondering, it’s rosemary-crusted baked Italian ham with mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and red wine vinegar on a Zingerman’s baguette.)

A place that serves seriously good food but doesn’t take itself too seriously, that values its employees and listens to its customers? That’s an easy-to-follow recipe for success.

Zingerman’s owners have built a great brand that over 40 years has expanded well beyond the deli into various food-related businesses, all while remaining in Ann Arbor and staying true to the principles of service, quality and creativity. To our way of thinking, it doesn’t get any better than that … actually, it does get better. They ship nationwide.