Ari Weinzweig’s Zingermans

Submitted by JeanMarie Brownson

Like so many in the food business, washing dishes changed Ari Weinzweig’s life.

Ari, a Niles North High School graduate and University of Michigan Russian History major who grew up on macaroni and cheese, needed to pay his bills. He badgered an Ann Arbor restaurateur until he got a job. Turned out to be a job washing dishes, but it ignited a lifelong passion for the food business.

In 1982, Ari and business partner Paul Saginaw opened Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with an intense passion for doing things right. Ari tells stories of the early days including a 90-minute round-trip drive to Detroit to pick up the perfect rye bread from the bakery that didn’t deliver. They did this every day for ten years—that’s 3800 trips!

Thirty years later, nine businesses comprise Zingerman’s Community of Businesses. Named “The Coolest Small Company in America” by Inc Magazine, Zingerman’s has a staff of more than 500 and annual sales topping $40 million. The delicatessen attracts hundreds of thousands of people every year to sample handmade sandwiches, to taste olive oil to sample a new mustard. A few steps away and you’re in Zingerman’s Bakehouse where they now make their own perfect rye bread (and amazing brownies).

Dame Tami Mizrahi introduced Ari. Then the audience of more than 30 Les Dames and guests introduced themselves to Ari. Several members of the audience have taken some of the Zingerman’s Training seminars including Tami and Dame Melissa Yen who concocted amazing soft drinks with her Jo Snow Syrups.

Tall, athletically slim and tan, Ari’s a self-proclaimed lapsed anarchist. When he lectures, he elegantly quotes from his favorite books, some on Russian history and many on business. Today, Ari, one of the most highly respected people in the specialty food business, is regularly asked for the secrets to Zingerman’s success.

On a warm summer evening, in the comfort of Dame Ina Pinkney’s restaurant, Ina’s, and with plates full of Zingerman’s famous corned beef, pastrami and potato salad, Ari shared his 12 Natural Laws of Business with the Chicago Chapter of Les Dames and their guests. He peppered each ‘law” with a moving story that prompted many of us to rethink our approach to business.

Ari’s 12 Natural Laws of Business:
1. An inspiring, strategically sound vision leads to greatness.
2. You need to give your customers some really compelling reasons to buy from you.
3. Without good finance, you fail.
4. People do their best work when they’re part of a really great organization.
5. If you want staff to give great service, give great service to your staff.
6. To get great performance, you need to give clear expectations and training tools.
7. Successful businesses do things others know they should do, but generally don’t.
8. To get to greatness, you’ve got to keep getting better. All the time!
9. Success means you get better problems.
10. Strengths lead to weaknesses.
11. It takes longer than to make something great happen than you think.
12. Great organizations are appreciative and the people in them have more fun.

For more details, check out his self-published books, Building a Great Business and Being a Better Leader, available from http://www.zingermans.com.

Ari believes that people working at a great organization will do great work and be happy. He left us with a quote about happiness from his 2009 book, Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon. Maynard Davies, the main man of British bacon says “The secret to happiness of life is seizing as much happiness when you can. If you leave it too long, and look for happiness later, it may be too late, so the secret is, when the happiness is there, take it.”

Special thank you to Dame Ina Pinkney for hosting the event at Ina’s where our group always feels welcome and at home. Also to Dame Melissa Yen who concocted amazing soft drinks with her Jo Snow Syrups and to Wei Frazer/Great Lakes Brewery for serving their wonderful beers. Dame Shannon Kinsella who could not attend but still prepared all the deli trays exactly to ZIngerman’s specifications.

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