On the Corner: A new book about Zingerman’s Deli details the Ann Arbor institution's satisfying history
If you live in Ann Arbor long enough, you will inevitably be asked about three things: University of Michigan football, the Art Fairs, and Zingerman’s Deli.
Since 1982, people have flocked to Zingerman’s for top-of-the-line sandwiches and outstanding customer service. The story of how the business grew from a 1978 idea hatched between restaurant colleagues Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw into a nationally known business is covered in Micheline Maynard's new book, Satisfaction Guaranteed: How Zingerman’s Built a Corner Deli into a Global Food Community.
Maynard is a longtime journalist, educator, and frequent guest on both radio and TV. Her career includes writing as a columnist at The Washington Post, a contributor to The Takeout, Medium, and The Ann Arbor Observer, and as the author of The End of Detroit and The Selling of the American Economy: How Foreign Companies Are Remaking the American Dream.
The genesis for the book began before the COVID pandemic.
“In November 2019, I got an email from literary agent Irene Goodman,” Maynard says. “She went to the University of Michigan and has long been a customer of Zingerman’s. Irene was looking to add business titles to her portfolio, found my writings about Zingerman’s, and thought I’d be the perfect person to write this book.”
Maynard’s writings on Zingerman’s date to her days as the Detroit bureau chief for The New York Times. When a new business section for the paper was created in 2007, Maynard pitched a feature on Zingerman’s. The article went on to be one of the most emailed pieces of that year.
Satisfaction Guaranteed begins on a date that many will remember: March 15, 2020.
“We’d set up a meeting with my editor, agent, and Ari Weinzweig,” Maynard remembers. “Ari came to the meeting and said he just had to lay off 300 people and it was the worst day of his life.”
The pandemic added perspective to the book, Maynard says.
“If I had written it a year earlier, it would have looked different. I wrote a whole separate chapter about how the pandemic affected them and it’s one of the most interesting aspects of the book."
During the writing of Satisfaction Guaranteed, Maynard discovered new things about the business.
“I covered the auto industry for many years, so I am really familiar with the Toyota Production system," she says. "I kept running into principles at Zingerman’s that echoed what Toyota and other car companies did to make themselves more efficient. I asked Paul [Saginaw] about the parallels between the two and he said that he had read a book by W. Edwards Deming, the American who taught the Japanese lead production after World War II. It clicked in my head that even though I was writing about a food company here in Ann Arbor, the same principles that were guiding the car companies here and in Japan were guiding Zingerman’s.”
While the quality food is what makes Zingerman’s the iconic place that it is today, Maynard points to the company's dedication to customer service and treatment of employees as things that make the business extra special.
“When I worked at Jacobson’s, they handed me a notebook, said here’s how you run sales and credit cards, and call if you need help," she says. "But at Zingerman’s, the first thing you are given is the training contract that says here is what you are expected to know at seven days, one month, three months, and so on, and here is what we promise to give you. They teach people how to do everything from answer the phone to lock the doors to how you talk to customers—nothing is left to chance. And now people who have been trained by Zingerman’s have gone into the food world to do some impressive things.”
In Satisfaction Guaranteed, readers will learn about the family of businesses, the locally produced and sourced goods, the culture of respect and innovation, and the ways in which the business reinvented itself during the pandemic.
Maynard hopes readers, whether they are longtime fans or new to the brand, will appreciate “the three-legged stool of good food, good services, and good finances. If you go in and ask about olive oil, the person who waits on you is educated in all of the olive oils and can recommend products based on what you like. Once you have their attention, it’s like nobody else exists. That kind of service is something that people are no longer used to. I find it completely refreshing.”
Patti F. Smith is a special education teacher and writer who lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and cat.
Micheline Maynard celebrates the release of "Satisfaction Guaranteed: How Zingerman’s Built a Corner Deli into a Global Food Community" on Wednesday, February 23, 7 pm at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, 2501 Jackson Avenue, Ann Arbor. Tickets are $70 per person and include appetizers and a copy of the book.