Our Greatest Hits

What follows is a tribute to some of our most famous and best-selling dishes, the things that have helped to make Zingerman’s Zingerman’s over all these years. We have selected some of your favorite foods – based on sales numbers – from the Deli, Bakehouse, Creamery, Mail Order, Roadhouse, Candy Manufactory, and Coffee Company.

Zingerman’s Deli #2: The Reuben

The Reuben is the best-selling sandwich at the Deli. As I know from listening to customers across the country, well-cured, well-cooked, and well-sliced corned beef is hard to find. Back of the envelope math tells me we’ve probably served about 150,000 pounds of it over the years!

That said, the Zingerman’s Reuben today is a better sandwich than it was when we opened. The bread alone makes a huge difference. We’ve replaced the bread we liked so much when we opened with the nationally recognized rye of Zingerman’s Bakehouse – best in the nation according to Saveur. The corned beef still comes from Sy Ginsberg’s United Meat and Deli in Detroit, but the quality of the beef he’s buying is better. And although I’m sure we’ve inadvertently over- or under-portioned (the perils of handiwork?) any number of sandwiches over the years, the actual recipe for each sandwich is still exactly what Paul and I wrote in months before we opened in ‘82.

The main thing‐then and now‐is that there really is culinary magic involved in eating a Reuben hot off the Deli’s grill. That golden brown rye bread, the crunchy, work-your-teeth-a-bit, double baked crust of the rye bread, the tender, juicy corned beef, the full flavor of the not-quite-melted Swiss cheese and the made-in-house Russian dressing dripping slowly but steadily out the sides so that you’re usually grabbing for napkins while you’re still working on that first big bite. If you haven’t had one lately… give it a try.

Zingerman’s Bakehouse Magic Brownies

I can’t even guess how many of these we’ve baked and sold over the last thirty years. We started making them three or four years into our existence (before that we’d bought so-so brownies from other bakeries). Connie Gray (now Gray-Prigg), who worked in our catering department at the time, developed the recipe. Her creative touch led to the now-famous Magic Brownie‐thinnish crust on the outside, soft chocolatey chewiness on the inside. One regular swears that she’s used them on airplanes to finagle a free upgrade or two. We’ve shipped the brownies to pretty much every corner of the country and many shipments have gone out to American troops serving overseas. Fortunately you don’t have to go to Afghanistan or Alaska to get them‐we sell thousands right here in Ann Arbor every week.

Zingerman’s Creamery Real Cream Cheese

This is such a staple of our existence at Zingerman’s that I could easily take it for granted. But on my regular travels, I realize that I’m really spoiled by this stuff; best I can tell, there’s really no other creamery out there making it. I’m not big on those “what would you eat at your last meal?” questions, but if I had to put together a list of ten foods, this stuff would most certainly be on it! It’s so great!

The cream cheese is made from freshly delivered Calder Dairy milk, which is gently pasteurized and set with starter cultures and rennet. When the curd is ready, managing partner/cheese maker John and the crew gently cut it to release the whey. It’s ladled into cloth bags to drain, then mixed with more fresh cream and a touch of sea salt. No gums, no extrusion, no preservatives.

Like so much of what we make and sell, this is eating as it was done a century ago before industrialization and the mass-market distribution chain took charge of our food system. I think one of the things I feel best about is that thousands of Ann Arbor kids are now growing up with this cream cheese as their standard. Their cream cheese bar has been set high, and to my sense of the world, happily so.

Zingerman’s Roadhouse Mac and Cheese

Food Network guru Alton Brown called this stuff the “best comfort food in America.” It’s nothing fancy‐the base recipe is in Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating, although at the Roadhouse we make it in a sauté pan rather than baking it in the oven. What makes it so great is a) the skill of Chef Alex Young and all the sauté cooks at the Roadhouse and b) the quality of the ingredients.

We use only macaroni from the Martelli family in Tuscany‐it’s one of the only non-American ingredients we feature at the Roadhouse, but it’s so much better than any other macaroni I’ve had that we have to use it. The Martelli family uses top-notch North American durum wheat semolina and uses traditional methods that leave the pasta with a coarse texture and a flavorful grain. The result is that the sauce integrates very well into the pasta. The pasta actually tastes like wheat! In fact, the whole kitchen smells like wheat when you boil it up.

Of course the pasta is our starting point. We make a cream sauce, grate up lots of two-year old Vermont cheddar and then toss the whole thing together in a sauté pan to caramelize it just before we pour it out into warm bowls and bring it to your table. Can you make mac and cheese with other, less costly raw materials? Of course! But once you try it this way, you won’t want to go back.

Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory Zzang Bars

Our candy master Charlie Frank gets full credit for these incredible candy bars. He’s passionate about sugar and traditional methods of candy making. Charlie has often said that he wants to take candy back 100 years and I think he’s been eminently successful. Others agree‐O: The Oprah Magazine recommended them, the Food Network featured them on “Kid in a Candy Store,” and food writer and candy expert Beth Kimmerle said, “They remind me of the 1930s bars that were hand-made, slab style with candy love. Although I never tasted a bar from that era, this is what I believe they would be.” Charlie has taken candy bars out of the context of convenience stores and into the realm of really wonderfully aged cheddar, bread fresh out of the oven, or exceptional olive oil.

When I look back over the last thirty years, Zzang bars are definitely one of our greatest hits. Really, more than most anything else, they’ve helped to redefine an entire category of our industry‐candy bars before Charlie developed these babies were still doomed to a super sweet, industrialized form filled with artificial ingredients. Imagine if all we had was Cheese Whiz or Wonder Bread? The food world has come so far in the last thirty years. And thanks to Charlie, candy bars now get to come along for the high quality ride!

Zingerman’s Coffee Company Roadhouse Joe

It’s been nine years now since we started Zingerman’s Coffee Company. Coffee buyer, roaster and co-managing partner Allen Leibowitz has been working hard throughout to take our coffee offerings to new heights. Without question the two big hits of the “coffee years” have been our Espresso Blend #1 and the Roadhouse Joe.

Allen and the crew have been always been passionate about espresso, which led them to develop the Espresso Blend. According to Allen, you should be able to sip and savor a great espresso, and it must stand on its own before we’ll use it for a cappuccino or a latte. The Coffee Company uses a blend of special varietals from the Daterra Estate in Brazil, and the result is an espresso that is rich, chocolatey, and a bit nutty, with a long finish.

The Roadhouse Joe was developed when we started the Roadhouse to meet managing partner and chef Alex Young’s taste profile. Alex wanted a coffee he could drink every day‐full flavored but smooth, a bit nutty. He wanted it to be somewhere between being so intense it would get in the way of the food and so subtle that it would be lost in the mix when people were eating all that great fried chicken, pulled pork and mac and cheese.

As a result, the Roadhouse Joe is a blend of coffees that complement each other as well as our food. With the help of a Seattle NGO, AGROS, the farmers who produce the coffees that go into the blend have been making a better product every year. The farmers set their prices and in turn, they are able to buy more land and continue to improve the crop. We get to enjoy the resulting Roadhouse Joe, which features coffees from Guatemala, Papua New Guinea, India, and Brazil. Says Allen, “Roadhouse Joe is a coffee that reflects the restaurant. It’s comfortable, full-flavored, and has something to surprise you. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did creating it.”

ZingTrain: The Zingerman’s Experience Seminar

Of all that we do, ZingTrain is probably the least visible part to most folks. But in a way, ZingTrain may have some of the longest lasting impact. If the way we operate here is, as I believe it is, “a new way to work” (see the Introduction to Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 2 for details) then every time ZingTrain goes out to share our approach with other business people in the area or around the country (or, actually now, the world) that impacts thousands of people in other workplaces as well.

ZingTrain’s “Greatest Hit” is probably its two-day Zingerman’s Experience Seminar. It’s the one we started teaching in 1996, just a couple years after ZingTrain opened in 1994. It’s the entry point for outsiders into the way we approach work, life, and food. It’s a chance for other leaders to learn our approach to servant leadership, visioning, open book finance and other fun stuff.

And from that Experience, a lot of great things emerge; ZingTrain has changed the way that thousands of people look at the world and feel about themselves and their work. As I wrote in the Epilogue of the Guide to Good Leading, Part 2, “recent seminar attendee Beth Fahey, who co-owns Creative Cakes with her sister on Chicago’s southwest side, saw me pouring water at the Roadhouse the evening after we’d finished a two-day ZingTrain session on visioning. She took my hand, looked me straight in the eye and said, very seriously, “I want you to understand. The last few days were transformative. I will never look at life the same way again.”