My sandwich was handed to me in a recycled bag with the Zingerman script all over it. I unfolded more paper, reading almost like a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap, from the sandwich. Something to the tune of, “we go to all ends of the earth to bring this highly intelligent sandwich to your lips,” or something to that nature. And that’s how I felt. Like someone cared, understood that I want to eat well-prepared, delicious, unadulterated food. My experience was exaggeratedly good, psychedelic almost. Big flavor. Just the right combo of fixings, accompanied by the perfect pickle crunch and washed down with a real vanilla and cane sugar cream soda.
Ari Weinsweig, founder and owner of Zingerman’s since 1982 along with Paul Saginaw, knows good food. We have known each other upwards of 10-12 years, mostly meeting in Italy at SlowFood events or trips sponsored by Old Ways Preservation and Trust. We would walk the aisles tasting cheeses, olive oils, whatever we deemed worthy.
He has also brought a group of people to Tuscany and visited my program with one of his food tours. The purpose of my trip to Ann Arbor was to talk about just that. What sort of trips could we collaborate on? I must say, I get very excited about working with people with such big ideas. It’s a successful model, this Zing Train. I sat in on a planning and vision meeting that our friends in Washington could learn a thing or two from. Ari and Paul have bold ideas and opinions, along with the various managers that have the courage to listen to each other and work things through to the best end. This kind of communication keeps the mission of giving great service in all their venues creed.
Sitting with Ari one morning over coffee in the Cafe, he spoke to everyone by name mostly and pinching the cheeks of babes.. young and younger. He’d make a great politician. At one point, he yelled out, ‘how ya doin Clay? Anything I can do for ya?’ I turned around and he was talking not to a customer, but an employee. If your boss is asking you how you are, then how can you not ask the customer with genuine concern, how he or she is? A product of good parenting..or shall we say management. He shuffled through every code red and green sheet, finding out who was happy and who was not and why. Greens by far outweighed the reds. The reds, only really pinkish. No concern was left unturned.
I came away thinking that this was a huge domestic culinary adventure for anyone wishing to see locally what can be done with a food passion. Many things sold here are no doubt imported. Ideas being some of them. Knowing how to make good gelato, good cheese, or good bread is learned from the old world. Yet, how could they be delicious and true if not using local milk or made on the spot with the freshest first-quality ingredients? Zingerman’s has a vision of goodness. Ari’s book, A Guide to Good Eating gives sensible information around the simple facts. Eat good fresh food. Not unlike Michael Pollen’s new line, “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food”.
Zingaro is the Italian word for ‘gypsy’. The plural is zingari. I couldn’t help but put two and two together. Zing + Ari = a band of gypsies, but in the truest sense of the word. The band of gypsies there at Zingerman’s is one solid group of cultural creatives. Anyone interested in visiting should high-tail it there before they morph into new intelligent life forms. Stay tuned if you are interested in joining a band of Zingaris on the road to rich and exotic food cultures around the world. It’s guaranteed to be a Zing fest.