Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman's: Interview
October 23, 2018 7:43 PM   Subscribe

How Food Empire Zingerman’s Was Built on Anarchist Theory. Zingerman’s, a group of 20 loosely associated businesses mostly focused on hospitality and food in the Ann Arbor area, encompasses a deli, bakehouse, restaurant, creamery, training organization, candy business, tour company and more. Behind it all sits co-founder Ari Weinzweig, an inspirational figure who spurns the idea of growth for growth sake, refuses to duplicate any business, and detests hierarchical thinking.
posted by MovableBookLady (15 comments total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
We'll generally make it back to Zingerman's or the Roadhouse whenever we're back in Michigan. I highly recommend either of these if you're in the area. They're both quite different experiences. I remember when my niece was working at the Roadhouse and pointed out that yes, that was Ari, the owner, who just filled our water glasses and bussed the table. From everything I've seen, heard and read about Zingerman's it seems that Ari really does take the approach he talked about in the interview:
the CFO doesn’t really know any more than the dishwasher knows, they just know different things, and they’re not necessarily more intelligent or more capable. So part of my, our, strong belief is like everybody’s, I’m just going to believe everybody’s a creative, intelligent human being that can do great things. Then I’m going to treat them accordingly, right?
And I'm really stoked that the Zingerman's Detroit Street Brick has shown up recently in my local cheese shop in SF.
posted by mach at 9:01 PM on October 23, 2018 [9 favorites]

Ari's books are pretty neat. As a former Zingerman's employee (mail order), they really do practice what they teach. It's both one of the nicest and most well run places I've ever worked. Systems up the wazoo. Transparent books. Really good coffee (when I was there Allen was still roasting the coffee in the same building as mail order, so it was pretty darn fresh).

When my wife and I and our little daughter left Ann Arbor, we'd frequented the Roadhouse so often that the whole staff signed a going away card for us. I mean, come on, how great is that?
posted by leotrotsky at 9:10 PM on October 23, 2018 [22 favorites]

Can Laundry and Lettuce Save Cleveland? - "A worker-owned co-op that even a capitalist could love is washing linens for the Cleveland Clinic and growing vegetables for the city."
posted by kliuless at 9:22 PM on October 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wow - this is a GREAT post.

I especially love that it's a podcast with a full transcript because chances are I would never have gotten around to actually listening to the podcast, but I was able to read the transcript - and now I can quote a couple of my favorite bits:
“And I think a lot of what I learned from the anarchist work is to try to stop thinking hierarchically because almost all of us in the U.S. have been raised to think hierarchically. Like what’s the most important thing, what’s the top three things, et cetera, et cetera. I think that thinking is actually antithetical to what’s happening in nature, and it creates a lot of people chasing the gold ring, chasing the magic answer instead of understanding that it’s all nuanced, it’s all interacting, everything’s influencing everything else, right?”

and continuing the non-hierarchical thread:
EP: So on any given day, you could be managing people, writing, or telling someone to make a different type of pancake? Is that what I’m getting?

AW: Yeah. I don’t know that it would be telling them to a different type of pancake.

NC: Very dogmatic.

AW: Might be discussing pancakes with them.

EP: Collaborative pancake effort.
I really love the way he's focused on everyone treating each other well:
just everything down to did the leader greet the newest employee with a smile, is a big part of the culture, right?
and I really like his approach to thinking of systems using nature analogies rather than machinery:
I just started to imagine, I’m sure others have done it too, but more and more the idea of organization as ecosystem. In a healthy ecosystem in nature, one of the key parts is that everything’s contributing and everything matters, even the things that seem really statistically insignificant, like bees, turn out to have enormous implications.
This is really great - I feel like I learned so much, and have a bunch of other things I want to learn more about, like anthropologist Ruth Benedict, and Ron Lippitt's visioning process.

Thank you, MoveableBookLady!
posted by kristi at 9:43 PM on October 23, 2018 [12 favorites]

Awesome post, thanks.
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 9:57 PM on October 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Extremely relevant to my interests, from food to Ann Arbor to Bookchin.
posted by The Toad at 10:12 PM on October 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

"Food Empire"

lol, possibly a fair cop but probably not to the taste and intent of the subject
posted by mwhybark at 10:17 PM on October 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

> When my wife and I and our little daughter left Ann Arbor, we'd frequented the Roadhouse so often that the whole staff signed a going away card for us. I mean, come on, how great is that?
posted by leotrotsky at 9:10 PM on October 23
[6 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]

honestly I’m a little surprised that anarchists would even be on speaking terms with you...
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:04 PM on October 23, 2018 [14 favorites]

It's stories like this that make me happy there's so many anarchists and anarchist-inspired people in the DSA.

The Anarchists keep us honest!
posted by The Whelk at 11:51 PM on October 23, 2018 [10 favorites]

I never knew any of that about Zingerman's! I'm so glad they've made such a healthy work environment.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:16 AM on October 24, 2018

I worked there in 1994, when it was just 2 buildings. I worked behind the deli counter and, to spice things up when I got bored, I would give away free stuff to customers who would agree to sing their least favorite song, tell a joke, etc. I got my boyfriend a job there, and when I moved back to Florida without him, they created a sandwich called "Joe's Lost Love." I forget which number it was.

I went back for the first time in 2016 and was shocked by how much it had grown. It was an empire! I paid $120 for 4 sandwiches and drinks, and nobody sang.
posted by staggering termagant at 6:30 AM on October 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

I also appreciated that the full transcript was right there because I never watch videos or listen to podcasts. Interesting and funny interview, I liked this bit:

NC: Can you tell a story of a specific, I’m trying to go with my nature metaphors so I don’t scare you off with more machine, parallels, but when the tree was chopped, or ...

AW: Yeah. Well, yeah. I mean I’ll go back ...

NC: There was a weed you had to pull.

AW: Yeah. I mean, I’ll go back a long ways so, it doesn’t impact anybody in the moment directly, but

NC: This is top secret, don’t worry. No ones gonna hear.

AW: I thought there’s like, you told me there were 40 million listeners to this podcast.

NC: Oh, yeah there are. It’s four billion actually

posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:44 AM on October 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh yes, summer of '90, best Maury Amsterdam I ever eat.
posted by clavdivs at 7:31 AM on October 24, 2018

Zingerman's was really responsible for my introduction to a food world bigger than that my mother, the overworked daughter of a Polish immigrant on a nothing budget, was able to show me as a teenager. They'll always have a soft spot in my heart.
posted by praemunire at 1:30 PM on October 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

I will always remember how happy and excited Zingerman's always was to sell me 1/4 lb of cheese or half a loaf of bread when I lived two blocks away and I was on a grad student budget.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 4:06 PM on October 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

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