My wife, Gail, was dining in a local restaurant the other evening and noticed that the man pouring water into her glass was one of the owners. Now in the restaurant trade, owners do whatever it takes to run the business, even bus tables and wash dishes. But this man is a bit different because this restaurant is only one of many businesses in which he has an ownership stake.
So you might think that he has a lot more important things to do than fill water glasses. But don’t tell him that; he’s doing what he thinks is best for the business. He is Ari Weinzweig, co founder of Zingerman’s, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based community of food businesses. Zingerman’s Deli has long been a favorite of food writers and was recognized as one of the world’s ten best food emporiums. Inc. magazine called Zingerman’s one of the coolest business in America. Bo Burlingham profiled the company in his book, Small Giants Ari himself is a well-known author publishing several books on good and recipes as well as one terrific management book, Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service
Even as a leader of a multi-million enterprise and personally recognized as a world authority on food, Ari considers himself one of the hired hands when it comes to running a restaurant. Ari and his business partner, Paul Saginaw, are not micro-managing types; they are leaders who are actively engaged in the running of their business. And so here are some things we can learn from their approach.
Honor work. There is nobility in doing a job well and the folks at Zingerman’s practice it everyday. You can see it in their selection of foods and in their attentive service. Running a food business is not glamorous; it’s hard work cooking and serving others, not to mention cleaning up and maintaining safety and heath standards. That’s a tough job, and that’s where teamwork enters the picture. When employees see Ari and Paul doing the small things to make the business run, they know that their jobs are important, too.
Pay attention to the details. Zingerman’s is famous for its wide assortment of foods gathered from around the country or directly-imported. Management teaches the stories of those foods to its employees so they can understand the why of Zingerman’s selection and in turn share that information with customers.
Recognize employees. Zingerman’s is an employee-first company. Its wages and benefits are fair and competitive. Ari and Paul run the business with an open-book management style; employees can see for themselves the profit and loss statements. [Salaries, however, are kept confidential for privacy reasons.] What’s more, employees with new ideas can partner with the partners to create new stand alone businesses. That’s how the mail order, bake house, creamery and coffee businesses started. Those new partners then have equity in the business. That keeps the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses strong, vibrant, and growing.
Zingerman’s celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this month. Keeping anything running this long and this successfully takes some doing. Part of that success includes giving back. Zingerman’s has been a sponsor of a food program for the poor almost since its inception. Zingerman’s is loyal to the community and to its patrons. Even when it comes to the details. Heck, even pouring a glass of water can sometimes mean the difference between customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction, so when in doubt, get out the pitcher and offer to pour.