Zingerman's founder turns anarchy into business advice in new book



By Leah Burgin
Daily Fine Arts Editor  On  November 14th, 2010

However hard it is to imagine Ann Arbor without the beloved Zingerman's Delicatessen, there are at least two ‘U’ alumni who remember the now-quintessential eatery's conception 28 years ago: Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, co-founders and partners of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses.

Weinzweig’s latest book — following, among others, his “Guide to Better Bacon” and “Guide to Good Eating” — is “Zingerman’s Guide to Great Leading, Part 1: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business.” The guide, intended for aspiring entrepreneurs, focuses on some of the “secrets” that have led Zingerman’s to success.

While structuring his advice around what he jokingly refers to as 18 “secrets,” Weinzweig ironically explains that one of Zingerman’s most important secrets is its transparency. As he writes in the preface, “We actually teach everything we know about business, leadership, finance, service and food to everyone who works here, regardless of how old they are, how long they’ve been on staff, or where they are on the org chart.”

And now Weinzweig has decided to share this philosophy with a wider public. Concise and casually toned, this first installment mirrors Weinzweig’s ambitions. The 18 secrets make for 18 mini essays that are sandwiched between some Zingerman’s history and stomach-rumbling recipes for "classics" like potato latkes, barbecue sauce and magic brownies (no, not that kind of magic). These bookends turn “Building a Great Business” into a guide that non-business-oriented folk can still enjoy and learn from.

“I like that there are recipes in a business book,” Weinzweig said in an interview with the Daily. “I picked one recipe for each Zingerman’s business. I tried to do stuff that wasn’t really complex. I like simple food anyway and, stereotypically, people who buy business books may be less inclined to try more difficult recipes than those who would buy our food books.”

Located at the head of each chapter, scratchboard illustrations depict “daily life” in the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, including bread-baking, coffee bean roasting and the Deli’s famous olive oil shelf. Though they are in black and white, these illustrations, combined with other charts littered throughout the book, evoke the splashy, hand-drawn Zingerman’s brand. For longtime customers and fans, this style will be instantly recognizable and will tie the book to the food and atmosphere they love so much.

“I guess I feel like the book is congruous with what we do,” Weinzweig said. “It’s a little different than what it would be like if it were put out by a mainstream publisher: It’s on 100-percent recycled paper, it’s got some parts in it that would probably be edited out by big publishers.”

The book makes many references to Weinzweig’s ties to the Joseph A. Labadie Collection, an obscure collection in the Hatcher Graduate Library of writings from 19th- and 20th-century anarchists. As a history major at the University, Weinzweig explored this collection, and has since developed a complex relationship with the ideals presented in its pamphlets and letters. These ideals crop up frequently in the book.

“While the 19th-century anarchists whose work I read in my student years certainly stayed with me in spirit, I gradually let go of some of the specific content of their beliefs,” Weinzweig wrote in the guide’s introduction. “Over the years I started thinking of myself more as a ‘lapsed anarchist.’ "

For Weinzweig, “lapsed anarchist” can be explained as someone who still believes in the ideals of the philosophy (liberty, voluntary association, etc.), but has dropped some of the particulars of the movement — mainly, the anti-government agenda. This philosophical shift seems logical considering Weinzweig is a leader of a coalition of eight always-expanding businesses that, according to a press release, collectively gross more than $37 million annually.

“I never even knew you could go into business,” he explained. “Plus I’m an anarchist, so the last thing I would have thought was to be in charge of anything.”

Though “Building a Great Business” is chock-full of business advice, ranging from discussion of the “Twelve Natural Laws” of business-building to the importance of mission statements to why “finishing third” is best, Weinzweig said that he hopes readers appreciate a larger message as well.

“Believe in yourself and go after great things and have fun while you’re doing it,” he said. “And don’t get caught up in doing what everyone else wants you to do. That’s my anarchist voice.”


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