…and how they ended up at Zingerman’s
I recently sat down to talk with Josh Pollock, manager of the Bakehouse bake shop about growing up in Ann Arbor, working for another local business icon, Borders, and how we came to join Zingerman’s.
EJ Olsen: What’s your background?
Josh Pollock: I grew up in town as a faculty brat. My dad was a professor at the UM School of Engineering. I went to Newport, Forsythe and Pioneer. After high school, I was ready to get out of town, so I left for about 10 years and during that time is when Zingerman’s really established itself. I lived in NYC for a couple years and had a lot of great food experiences there, including going to all the classic Delis like Katz’s, the Carnegie Deli, the Second Avenue Deli and some of the great old kosher dairy restaurants there, too. When I came back to visit a couple of times, I visited Zingerman’s Deli and it was great to get that high-quality corned beef sandwich right here in Ann Arbor.
What was your first sandwich at the Zingerman’s Deli?
I’m pretty darn sure it was hot corned beef on rye with mustard.
Okay, so I was born here at UM hospital. I went to Wines, Forsythe, Pioneer and Community. In fact, while at Community, we used to go to the little store on Detroit St. that eventually became the Deli. We also used to go to Kerrytown for lunch at Kosmo’s. I was first exposed to a Reuben sandwich on trip somewhere with my family, and I really liked that sandwich. When the Deli opened back in ’82, they immediately had a reputation for great sandwiches, so I had to give them a try. And there at #2 was the Zingerman’s Reuben. I’d never tasted one quite that good, quite that BIG–
So, I was a regular customer and fan for the next few years. Moved to San Francisco, came back after a few years and Zingerman’s was doing better than ever and it was really nice to stop in and say hello. Moved to Washington DC, came back. Zingerman’s always made returning to Ann Arbor really nice, you know?
So many things in Ann Arbor have changed. It was nice to see that Zingerman’s was not only still there, but had grown considerably.
It’s one of the things you do in Ann Arbor. You’ve got your list of things, and going to Zingerman’s is on almost everyone’s.
When I came back to Ann Arbor permanently in the early 90s (I’d been working publishing in NYC), and I was attracted to working for Borders because they had a passion for books, and they had great bookstores. And at that time, Borders didn’t really consider itself a chain, they considered themselves a collection of fine bookstores, and that was the line.
When Borders came to an end, I was really looking for something that had a lot of the same attributes that existed in the early Borders. A passion about what they did, a desire to do it incredibly well, and culture that really supported giving great service and being the best at what you did.
And this is what’s made Zingerman’s such a nice fit. Like the early days of Borders, they know exactly what they want to do. Instead of chasing the money, they’ve concentrated on chasing the three bottom lines: great service, great food, and great finance.
I was attracted to working for Borders for the same reasons you mention above. And I love to read, so it was hard to imagine a more perfect job!
I was a legacy staffer at Borders, as my mother worked for Tom and Louis Borders at the old State St. store back in the 1970s. It was very much part of the fabric of Ann Arbor. When they became successful, it felt like our great hometown bookstore had caught on and that was a pretty neat feeling.
I had a long and fun career at Borders. And, as you said, for a time Borders and Zingerman’s really resembled each other in terms of culture and passion and service.
So, after that ended, I wanted to work for another organization that really mattered to me. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to have that sort of experience again. It was sort of a high-water mark with regard to quality of work life. And, lo and behold, I found it all these years later here at Zingerman’s.
Yes, yes! Managing the bake shop, I see a lot of the same things I used to see managing the Borders downtown. You see a lot of people you know. You see their parents!
You hear from everyone you know about every detail of their experiences at every one of the Zingerman’s businesses! It’s a lot of fun and it’s also a lot of responsibility, because you have to carry the banner. And it’s a great banner to carry and the company makes it very easy to do. It’s a great place to be because just as with Borders, you get to know people and their tastes, and you can personally recommend a book. It’s the same thing with food.
So when something new comes in, some new Hungarian dish, you can say “You’ve got to try this” and to see the look on their faces when they make that food connection. You watch their face light up as they get it, and that’s so exciting.
It is! If you grew up in Ann Arbor, you have a unique relationship with a large percentage of your clientele. These are friends and neighbors, the people you know and so I think there’s a heightened sense of responsibility. I’m going to see this person again soon, and I can’t just not give my best because…
They’re gonna tell my parents!
(laughter) Right! And so there’s that personal investment in the people who come into our businesses. I feel like I’m recommending something that I love and I have no qualms about doing so. I mean, for YEARS, I recommended Zingerman’s before working here, so it’s been a pretty seamless transition.
There’s something here for everyone, and chances are if we make something you like it will be among the best, if not the best, you’ve ever tasted. We’ve had people who say they don’t like something, they try our version, and they like it. That’s exciting.
And now, I must get back to my Sólet!