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Ari Weinzweig

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Ari Weinzweig is the co-founder and founding partner of specialty food collective Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, known colloquially as simply Zingerman’s. Originally hailing from Chicago, Weinzweig moved to Ann Arbor to attend University of Michigan, where he majored in Russian history. After graduation, he stayed in Ann Arbor, taking a job washing dishes at a local restaurant. It was then that he discovered that he loved the food business, and he and co-worker Paul Saginaw started plotting ways to enter it themselves, daydreaming of re-creating delicatessens from their hometowns.

In 1982, Weinzweig and Saginaw set to making their fantasies into a reality. Backed with a $20,000 bank loan, they founded Zingerman’s Delicatessen, offering a small selection of specialty foods and a short sandwich menu. Over the years, the delicatessen has grown from a staff of two to over 600, with annual sales approaching $50,000,000 a year and revenues continuing to grow by 8-10% annually. They now serve 500,000 visitors every year, crafting thousands of made-to-order sandwiches daily. Their small, select stock has grown into a veritable treasure trove of foodie delights, including farmhouse cheeses, smoked fish, cured meats, aged vinegars, estate-bottled olive oils, and many more expertly-curated delicacies.

The deli is now one of nine businesses which together form Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, an umbrella which encompasses Zingerman’s Bakehouse, Zingerman’s Creamery, Zingerman’s Mail Order, Zingerman’s Coffee Company, Zingerman’s Training, Inc., Zingerman’s Catering and full-service restaurant Zingerman’s Roadhouse. Each business is joint-owned by the original founders and the managing partners who began it, upholding the company’s standards and values while maintaining its own organizational structure. The collective is founded on a philosophy that eschews traditional corporate hierarchies, favoring instead collective-decision making amongst the eighteen partners. A prime example of open-book management in action, Zingerman’s believes that employees at every level of the business will work better if they know how the company is doing and have a stake in its success. Executive meetings are open to every employee, and the co-founders have committed to paying employees a living wage.

In addition to crafting innovative business practices and curating fine foods, Weinzweig has served as a board member of the Retail Division of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade and The American Cheese Society, of which he was also president. He has also served on the board of The Ark, the longest continuously-operating folk music venue in America. In 1988, his company played a key role in founding Food Gatherers, a perishable food rescue program. The organization, of which Zingerman’s remains a major supporter, delivers over a million pounds of food to people in need each year. In April 1995, Weinzweig and Saginaw’s’ contributions to the community were recognized by the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County, who presented them with the Federation’s first Humanitarian Award.

Weinzweig’s frequent speaking engagements have included the American Institute of Wine and Food, Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, the Gathering of Games, and the NASFT Fancy Food Show. He has also conducted guest lectures for business classes at the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. A prolific writer, he has written over 211 issues of Zingerman’s newsletter, as well as contributions to magazines including Fine Cooking, Specialty Foods, Gourment Retailer, and Food and Wine. He’s shared his passion for food in a series of “Zingerman’s Guide” books, with volumes on selecting better bacon, good olive oil, good vinegar, and good parmigiano reggiano. He’s also published three books on leadership, entitled A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business; A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader; and A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Managing Ourselves.

Weinzweig’s contributions have been widely-recognized in both the entrepreneurial and gourmet circles. In 2006, he was recognized by the James Beard Foundation as one of the “Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America.” Bon Appetit presented both of the Zingerman’s co-founders with the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007, in recognition of their work in the food industry.

Companies and Investments

Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (Founding Partner)

Lessons Learned

The assumption that others are out to get us, that something bad happened because of others’ ill will or malice, rarely makes for anything productive. Learning to breathe deeply, get grounded, and be sensitive to others’ suffering can help get us back to a more productive place. (Ari Weinzweig on compassion over competition and focusing on creating growth over placing blame, in A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Managing Ourselves.)

To state the nearly obvious, staying in business does suppose that we will be profitable, but that alone isn't really what it means to me to be sustainable. In the old model of business, success looks like a hot poker player who hits it big, sweeps up all his chips, cashes out, and goes home while he's on top. In our case, by contrast, the point is to keep playing, and, in the process, to create wins for all the players at once while the pool gets ever-bigger and ever-more rewarding for all involved. ...inevitably we'll fall short in any number of ways in our efforts to make this happen. But if we don't commit to making it a reality, it's safe to say that we're not even going to get close. (Ari Weinzweig on a new definition of success that sees the business as something greater than a means for individual material gain, in A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business)

What is a vision? It's not as mystical or out there as it sounds. A vision, quite simply, is a picture of what success will be at a particular time in the future. It encompasses answers to an array of questions: What does our organization look like? How big is it? What are we famous for? Why does anyone care about what we do? How do people who work here feel about their jobs? How do I, as the founder, feel about the business? What's my role in it? Complete the visioning process, and you'll have a clearly articulated end for your organization—something that won't change every time the market or your mood shifts.

A great vision is inspiring. It gets you and everyone in the organization excited to come to work; it's the cathedral everyone is coming to work every day to construct. This is not mere wishful thinking. A vision must also be strategically sound. You have to have a reasonable shot at getting there. (Ari Weinzweig on creating a vision for your business, in an article for Inc.)

Inspiring Quotes

When furious, get curious.

Paul Saginaw

Ari Weinzweig's Quotes

I try to remind myself that every action I take and every word I speak is going to influence our cultural development.

Ari Weinzweig

We strongly prefer the problems of going our own way to going with the flow and being mad at ourselves later.

Ari Weinzweig

Great organizations are appreciative, and the people in them have more fun.

Ari Weinzweig

People do their best work when theyre part of a great organization.

Ari Weinzweig

An inspiring, strategically sound vision leads the way to greatness.

Ari Weinzweig

Influential Books