The Artists Behind the Zingerman’s Deli Posters

A behind-the-scenes look into Zingerman’s artwork

I’m standing in a bright studio space on the second floor of an older building across from Zingerman’s Delicatessen. Tall windows facing Detroit St. bathe the room in light. To my left is the largest easel I have ever seen, covered with paint spatters and streaks; to my left is a poster in progress draped over a work table. The walls are covered with posters and artwork from Zingerman’s past, the shelves crowded with bottles of paint, brushes, and art supplies.



This is the Zingerman’s Deli sign shop, where all of the artwork used to communicate monthly specials, new products, events, and just about everything else is created. Nick Jaroch is the longest-serving painter in the shop, at seven-and-a-half years. Nick studied painting at Eastern Michigan University while working the Deli sandwich line. One day, while admiring the hand-made artwork at the Deli, he realized that it was all produced in-house. He made some inquiries, and was able to negotiate a work-study program in conjunction with his curriculum at EMU to work part-time in the sign shop. Soon after, the full-time sign painter left, and Nick stepped into the role.


Sign artist Victoria

The shop has two full-time painters, including Nick, and a part-time fill-in person. They produce between 20 and 30 pieces each month. “We make everything for the Deli. Posters, signs, banners – whatever they need,” says Nick. “We originally used a stiff illustration board, but it was pretty expensive and unforgiving if you made a mistake. Now we use Tyvek.” Yep, the same man-made material used by builders as a moisture barrier in new homes; by the U.S. Postal Service for their envelope mailers; and as protective clothing, among a multitude of other uses. Nick says they receive Tyvek in large, 60-inch wide rolls, and cut it to order for signs. It’s perfect for just about every use; long banners, posters, or unusual sign shapes. “It’s durable, water-resistant, doesn’t tear easily, and you can just wipe it clean,” says Nick.


Each full-size poster takes approximately 6-8 hours to complete, rendered in water-based acrylic paints, depending on the illustration complexity. Nick says he often sketches out designs on the Tyvek using chalk, and then fills in with colored pencil prior to painting. “It helps me get it just right.” Sometimes, if an illustration is very complex, or requires a precise reproduction (like a vendor logo) the artists will project an image and trace it. Nick shows me a recent sign featuring the State of Michigan seal as an example.



When I ask Nick what inspires him, he cites the influence of long-time Zingerman’s artists, Ian Nagy and Ryan Stiner (25 years, and 10 years of service, respectively). “Zingerman’s has a distinctive look and feel, due in large part to Ian and Ryan. When I started, I basically tried to do what they were doing with illustration. As time went on, I got the style down and I’m able to create artwork that matches their style – the Zingerman’s style.” Nick also says he’s a big fan of the traditional, hand-painted signs prevalent throughout most of the 20th century. “It was an art,” he says. “And it pretty much faded away in the later part of the century with the advent of the vinyl plotter,” a quick, inexpensive method that eliminated the need for experienced sign painters. “Something important was lost with the end of hand-painted signs.” He shows me a book, Sign Painters, by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon. The forward was written by well-known pop artist and Andy Warhol contemporary, Ed Ruscha, which is a testament to the widespread appeal of this lost art. “People connect with hand-drawn elements on a sign,” says Nick. He feels that it appeals to people on a very basic level, and that they respond positively.

And they do. Nick says the sign shop also receives special requests from Zingerman’s guests for custom posters. “We do posters for vendors, or Deli special events, but we also create special posters and banners for guest events like weddings, and parties. And we get requests from people who want to commemorate something, such as their time at the University, or an engagement, or just a special day.” Nick says he’s flattered that people would choose his art to remember a special moment. But the special requests are not the only way someone can own a piece of Zingerman’s. The Deli also offers a wide assortment of signs that once hung in the Deli for sale through their website.*



“I hope people enjoy our posters, says Nick. “This is something that makes Zingerman’s special and unique. We’re happy when someone buys a poster and wants to hang it in their house. That’s a pretty big honor.” When I ask him how he feels about his time at the Deli sign shop, he tells me, “As an artist, I am incredibly grateful. It’s a really fun environment, with great people and incredible food. That’s why I’ve been here so long. It’s just a very enjoyable job for me.”


Sign artist Nick

*Note: Our entire archive of hand-painted posters is currently on sale. Get $50 off until July 23, 2017. Use code ARTFAIR at checkout. See the collection here.