Ann Arbor restaurant Zingerman’s Roadhouse has been nominated as one of the semi-finalists for the James Beard Foundation’s 2019 Outstanding Service Award. The award recognizes restaurants that demonstrate “consistency and exceptional thoughtfulness in hospitality and service.”
Known for its traditional menu items like the mac and cheese or the buttermilk fried chicken, Zingerman’s Roadhouse is an American restaurant specializing in old-time classics. Established in 2003, it is the seventh member of the Zingerman’s Community of Business, which includes the popular Zingerman’s Delicatessen. Visited by former President Barack Obama in 2016, the Deli is renowned nationally for its sandwiches.
LSA freshman Maddie Stach recalled how her visits to the Deli and Roadhouse were highlights of her Ann Arbor trips when she was younger.
“When I was younger, it was my favorite part about coming to Ann Arbor,” Stach said. “I love that the second you walk in, you are overwhelmed by the smell of sandwiches, and the endless amount of cheese, bread and other produce that they have around the shop.”
Despite its rapid growth, Zingerman’s still embodies a sense of local community, according to the Zingerman’s marketing manager, Marcy Harris.
At Zingerman’s, management is not top-down like other businesses, Harris said. Co-founders Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw know their restaurants’ staff members and interact with them regularly. Weinzweig frequently comes by the Roadhouse to bus tables and talk to customers.
It is this commitment to service that makes Zingerman’s unique, Harris said. Reflective of their motto of “showing love and caring” to “enrich as many lives as [they] possibly can,” Zingerman’s Roadhouse aspires to be a place for people to come together and connect, a place where they can feel like they are part of a family.
“We love to tell the stories behind the food we serve, behind the artisans we buy our food from,” Harris said. “But likewise, we’re listening to the stories of the people we’re serving, and we’re adapting our service to those stories … this is where we’re really listening to who they are as a person and we’re adapting our level of service to what they’re looking for.”
The experience extends beyond the Roadhouse customers. Employees at the Roadhouse spoke about their personal relationship with the restaurant and described Zingerman’s commitment in providing service both externally and internally.
Monica Nedeltchev, line cook at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, reflected on her experience there.
“Zingerman’s starts off with an exceptionally high bar for customer service that is guided by their desire to have the most positive interaction with their guests,” Nedeltchev said. “Then you add a staff that experiences that same interaction with their company. It’s a really magical experience.”
The James Beard Foundation is a New York-based non-profit organization whose mission is to use their awards to cultivate a diverse culinary environment. The JBF Awards for excellence were first given in 1991.
According to Harris, the Roadhouse works to foster a sense of community within its walls.
“Ann Arbor and the Washtenaw community on a general level really does seem like a family because we’re so tight-knit,” Harris said. “Zingerman’s is an extension of that. We’re so inclusive of everyone. When I talk about hearing the stories from people, I’m also talking about receiving their feedback. We adapt our standards and our systems based on that constructive feedback.”
Felipe Diaz, lead server and staff trainer, spoke about the ways he has grown at the Roadhouse.
“I came to the Roadhouse years ago and one of the things I enjoyed most about the place is the constant drive for staff to learn more about what they’re doing and learn more about themselves, learn how to be better leaders and how to be better communicators,” Diaz said.
In a 2018 interview, Ari Weinzweig explained the role that synergy plays into each and every one of his restaurants.
“So the idea was each part of the organization would be contributing back to the others just by dent of what it did,” Weinzweig said. “When we opened the creamery and we started making handmade cream cheese, then the bagels and cream cheese at the Deli were elevated to new heights. When the Roadhouse opened, the Bakehouse got this great new wholesale customer, et cetera, et cetera, so that each piece was contributing positively to the other.”
This is not the first time that the Zingerman’s business has been in the spotlight. Last year, the Zingerman’s Deli was a finalist for the Outstanding Service Award, the same award for which the Roadhouse is currently nominated. In 2011, the former head chef at the roadhouse, Alex Young, won the award for Best Chef in the Great Lakes region.
In 2006, Weinzweig won the award for Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America.
The winner will be announced on May 6 during the James Beard Foundation Awards Gala at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago.