Bakehouse, Bread, Business, ZCoBbers, Zingerman's History

My Good Friend Frank

“Friendship is often more enduring than love and less exacting.” Emma Goldman

My Good Friend Frank; 40 Years of Fine Food, Friendship, and Fun

Back in the spring of 1978, I started my first job in restaurants. It was washing dishes at a place a few of you might well still remember, called Maude’s, over near the corner of Fourth Ave. and Liberty. Paul Saginaw (Zingerman’s Co-Founder) was the GM. Frank Carollo (Zingerman’s Bakehouse Managing Partner) was a line cook. Maggie Bayless (ZingTrain Managing Partner) started not long thereafter as a cocktail waitress. If I remember right, I was 21. Paul, I think would then have been an “old guy” of almost 26. Frank and Maggie, who I’m pretty sure are the same age, would have been 22. Earlier that year the Sex Pistols played their last concert, Elton John appeared on the Muppets, and The Rolling Stones started another big cross-country American summer tour. 

As I write this, for the 38th Anniversary issue of Zingerman’s News, Paul, Maggie, Frank, and I are all active parts of Zingerman’s—connected, learning, growing, each being ourselves, and yet working collaboratively together. That we are all still here is, to my sense of the world, a marvelous, and nigh on miraculous thing. There simply aren’t all that many foursomes of folks who work together and get along in caring and supportive ways for such a long time. The Rolling Stones, who started in 1962—two decades before we opened the Deli (!!!)—have us beat by a mile. But even they lost some of their original members early on. I love what early 20th century film critic, anarchist, and writer Siegfried Kracauer said on the subject: “Friendship civilizes.” My existence is far, far better thanks to their civilizing influences. 

Irish philosopher, poet, and theologian John O’Donohue once opined that, “Real friendship or love is not manufactured or achieved by an act of will or intention. Friendship is always an act of recognition.” This essay is exactly that—a formal written act, probably long overdue, of recognition for the exceptionally fine partnership of my friend Frank Carollo. I’m writing this now, at what might otherwise seem a rather random time, to recognize Frank more publicly in print in this way, because next January, at the start of the year 2021, after what I believe will be our 28th successful and biggest ever holiday season at the Bakehouse, my good friend and longtime business partner is going to retire. Frank is going to step back from his super significant role at the Bakehouse, and in the ZCoB, and walk forward into the future to explore new ways to enhance the quality of his life.

The act of even writing this essay, I have to say, is rather strange. I’m talking about a relationship that started back when we were both in our early 20s, at a time when I had no clue what my life was going to look like—not even a glimmer of a good thought about anything to do with a deli that would come to be called Zingerman’s, let alone the idea of creating a Community of Businesses. I had pretty negative beliefs about business, and almost no opinions one way or the other about good food and cooking. By definition, the longest-standing friendship I had at the time would have been 10 or 15 years. If you had told me that 40 years and more later we’d both still be productively and professionally ensconced in the world of food—and in it together—I would have asked what you’d been smoking. And yet, here we are, Frank and I, working supportively, relatively near each other, but respectfully conserving the other’s introverted space. 

It’s hard for me to imagine life at Zingerman’s without Frank here every day. The band “The Left Outsides” have a song entitled, “My Reflection Once Was Me.” I like uncommon and uncomfortable phrases like that which make me take pause to really think my way through what they mean. For the moment at least, I have a feeling that their song title describes what life around here in the ZCoB might well be after Frank has shifted his days to do other stuff. 

Wendell Berry once wrote, “There is a sense in which my own life is inseparable from the history and the place.” I know the feeling. While I have a fairly strong sense of my own existence—business or no business—having spent most of my adult life as part of Zingerman’s, it is hard to imagine my life apart from it. It’s equally impossible to imagine what life around here would have been like if I had not connected with these three exceptional people. I feel very lucky to have met and then partnered with Paul back in the early 80’s. And equally fortunate to have found Frank and Maggie. And then, later, over the years that followed, Amy at the Bakehouse and all the other of the 18 (at the moment—tip of the organization’s historical hat to Tom, Toni, Aubrey, Kieron, Mo, Tabitha, Grace, Rodger, Ji Hye, Kristie, Rick, Katie, Steve, Ron) or so managing partners, plus all those who’ve come and then gracefully gone, who’ve all worked so darned hard to make the Zingerman’s Community what it is. 

For Frank, Paul, Maggie, and I, it’s been nearly four decades that we’ve been, in one form or another, doing this thing that we and the rest of the world know as Zingerman’s. It has indeed been a solid, superbly and spatially supportive, 40-something years of working together for the two of us. The whole thing, in a sense, is so big, I can barely get my mind around it.

Chilean biologist Humberto Maturana believes that it’s impossible to really assess anything in isolation from what and whom it interacts with. Although any number of studies seem to isolate variables, the reality of all of our existences, Maturana says, is that we have each been impacted by what’s around us, and at the same time, we have impacted everyone and everything. None of us would be what or who we are without the contributions—direct and indirect—of those around us. I believe that. So, although Paul and I tend to get top billing most of the time when the Zingerman’s story is shared, the truth is that none of us would be remotely close to where we’re at without the others. Masanobu Fukuoka, the marvelously insightful Japanese farmer, poet, and writer, says that taking singular credit for something would be “like clapping your hands and then arguing about which is making the sound, the right hand or the left.” Frank’s part in the Zingerman’s story, I suggest, is something like that of the “other” hand—while it’s not the one that most folks focus on, without that “other hand,” there would be no applause. And maybe no Zingerman’s. 

I will say then, with a high degree of delicious certainty, the Zingerman’s Community would be a very different place without the determined, positive, intelligent, and incredibly skilled presence of my friend Frank. In fact, it’s not far-fetched to imagine that, without his contributions, the organization would have ceased to exist a long time ago. Without Frank’s early work there would have been no Bakehouse. The sandwiches at the Deli would never have been as good as they are now. Competition would have been more easily able to adapt to our other quality improvements—we might have kept up. Our Mail Order would have been deprived of its major supplier and one of its most significant market differentiators. The Creamery would have had no great bread or bagels on which Zingerman’s customers could spread its artisan cream cheese or goat cheese. 

I’ve never written a resume or CV for myself but, here’s an informal, outsider’s version of one for Frank. He grew up in St. Clair Shores on Detroit’s east side. His father’s family came from Sicily and his mother’s from Austria—both places, coincidentally, with wonderful cooking, and baking traditions. He arrived in Ann Arbor to go to school at the University of Michigan where he ended up studying engineering. At some point, he got a job cooking at Bicycle Jim’s, which was upstairs, on the second floor in the building that’s still on the northeast corner of South U. and Forest. At some point, early in 1978, he, along with half-a-dozen or so of his Bicycle Jim’s buddies, began working at Maude’s. He—and they—were all there when Paul and I started at Maude’s that spring. 

Throughout those early years, Frank was my teacher. Had he not taught me well, I’d never have learned to cook. He trained me how to cook the line, how to clean the grill, how to organize the walk in, how to stay focused through a big dinner rush, how to be kind and find humor when one was having a hard day, and how to be humble. We played softball on the Maude’s team—he was the star, faster by far, and more skilled than anyone else out there. We drank shots of tequila after games (it’s been probably 40 years since we’ve done that). Together, we’ve talked through good times and bad, survived economic challenges, managed through marriages and divorces, developed products, worked on visions, and traveled. We’ve probably tasted literally over 20,000 things together, comparing notes and assessing quality in the process. We’ve talked through management issues, learned about bread making and business. Shared frustrations and fears, hopes and happinesses. 

Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote, “I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.” It’s a lovely way to say it. Especially for a pair of introverts like me and Frank. My friend Frank Carollo is one of the quietest, most caring, and insightfully thoughtful people I know. What Frank and I haven’t done, at least that I can think of, in all of those 42 years, is pushed into the other’s space to give unsolicited advice or intruded into that solitude. 

While we worked at Maude’s, Frank was always a bit “ahead” of me. He started managing before I did. He went out to the Hilton (they owned the restaurant there) to manage before I did. Paul left and opened Monahan’s Seafood Market in 1979 along with Mike Monahan (it had been the Real Seafood Company’s retail market). I left a few years later, in the fall of 1981. Frank stayed on as a general manager for a few more years. Paul and I opened the Deli in March of 1982. Frank came down and helped us for free on his days off, first with renovations, then with work. When he left their organization, unsure of what he was going to do next, he came and worked in the retail department at the Deli for a while. I remember feeling exceptionally fortunate to have someone with his skill level working on the counter. 

A year or two later, in 1985, Frank left the Deli to partner with Paul and Mike to open a second Monahan’s Seafood Market in the suburbs. Despite their best efforts (which having worked with them all for years is a lot of effort) it didn’t take off. In one of the most difficult moves any business person has to make, they closed the market late in 1986. I think what they were doing was probably ahead of its time, but their commitment to high quality—and appropriately-set prices for that quality—didn’t cut it in that market.

With the second seafood market shuttered, Frank came back to town to work with Paul and Mike at Monahan’s in Kerrytown. Sometime late in 1991, or maybe it was early ’92, Frank announced to everyone that he was going to move on from the fish market. I don’t think he was clear on what would come next, but it was time to do something different. It was, I suppose, much the same situation I was in, a decade earlier, in the fall of 1981, after I’d given my notice at the restaurant group. I was fortunate then that Paul had called me a couple days later to propose the idea of opening the Deli. I hadn’t thought about this until just now, but I guess I did with Frank what Paul did with me—phoned a friend that I really liked working with to share an idea, the very beginnings of a vision, and a possibility to create something that didn’t yet exist, to see if he wanted to take the lead on the project, and partner together to make it happen. In Paul’s case, he proposed we put together a little deli on the corner of Detroit and Kingsley, across the street from the fish market’s spot in Kerrytown. In Frank’s case, the idea was to open our own, Zingerman’s, bakery. 

Martin Luther King once said something along the lines of, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.In hindsight, Frank’s leap of faith was even more amazing—he was agreeing to walk up a long set of stairs that weren’t even built yet. None of us knew much of anything about baking. We did know how to work and learn. Frank took the leap. We tasted bread together. He went to upstate New York to work with our teacher, Michael London, to begin learning the basics of artisan bread baking. He came back to be home for a bit and do work on the business part of things, then went back to spend more time with Michael at Rockhill Bakehouse. In September of that year, Michael came here for the weeks around the opening, bringing with him his plastic cooler filled with starter dough and with his little rubber-band-bound notebook full of hand-scribbled recipes. (Speaking of Franks, Frank Zappa played his last concert, that month.) Then, Michael flew home and Frank was essentially on his own. That he turned those tentative beginnings into something so terrific is a testament to his relentless pursuit of learning, quality, and excellence. Ideas aren’t all that hard—the challenging part is making them turn into reality. In this case, Frank took that challenge and rose, naturally, to the occasion—much like the beautiful loaves we’ve been crafting at the Bakehouse ever since. I have huge admiration for Frank’s learning. He went from knowing nothing to, very humbly, being one of the best artisan bakers in the country. 

So, on this 38th anniversary of Zingerman’s, my thesis, my belief, my statement, is that Zingerman’s would not be Zingerman’s if it wasn’t for Frank. It’s hard for me to imagine us without the amazing bread that the Bakehouse makes every day. Without the coffee cakes and rugelach and brownies. It’s hard to imagine Zingerman’s Mail Order without all of the baked goods we offer or Zingerman’s in recent years without all the traditional Hungarian foods the Bakehouse has brought to town. Think about the sort of mind boggling community that is Zingerman’s “southside”—the Bakehouse, Creamery, BAKE!, the Candy Manufactory, Coffee, and ZingTrain and all those people who now come there every day to shop, eat, drink, and glean good energy. None of it would have happened without the Bakehouse starting up first. If Frank weren’t so diligent and determined and relentless in his pursuit of improvement. If he wasn’t willing to go in at all hours, cover for people who didn’t come in, keep working to improve and take leaps of faith when, at best, the bottom stairs were all one could see . . . I wouldn’t be here writing this piece. 

The Bakehouse is a story in itself. Frank and Amy’s book, Zingerman’s Bakehouse tells it in very delicious detail. Frank and I had our first talk in the Next Door at the Deli (which we’d only finished renovating that previous fall, on October 31, 1991). In March of 1992 in the Next Door Café at the Deli, we tasted Michael London’s artisan breads for the first time. We were pretty much blown away by how much better it was then anything we could get in town at that time. Six months later, we sold our first loaves. Amy Emberling, who became a co-managing partner with Frank in 2000, was one of the original bakers. We only baked for the Deli and there was a small cart table next to the one oven where an occasional customer who wandered in could buy a loaf. We had one “bay” in the long buildings of the industrial park out by the Ann Arbor airport that Paul had found for us—the place that most of you now know so well as Zingerman’s Southside, or maybe more anecdotally as “out by the Bakehouse.” We’d decided to build the Bakehouse there because the Deli’s physical space was already pretty much maxed out, location wasn’t all that important for a wholesale bakery, and rent was going to be much lower if we went to that end of town. A few years later we took on another bay, and then another, and then another still. In 1994 we started baking pastries. Today, the Bakehouse has annual sales of over $10,000,000, a staff of about 130 (plus 35 more at the holidays), 150 or so wholesale customers (including the Deli, Roadhouse, Mail Order, etc.) around the area and has been recognized all over the country. Jane and Michael Stern called the rye bread the best in the country in Saveur a bunch of years ago. It’s been in the New York Times and many other places too. Bottom line? With Frank’s leadership (and yes, again, Amy and hundreds of other great folks with him), Zingerman’s Bakehouse is one of the most amazing bakeries in North America. 

The late English singer-songwriter John Martyn once said, “Some people keep diaries, I make records.” Maybe Frank would replace records with baked goods. Here’s a history and imperfect timeline of the Bakehouse. 

  • March 12, 1992—Frank and Ari have coffee and Ari introduces the idea of opening a bakery
  • March 21, 1992—Receive sample bread from Michael London 
  • April 3, 1992—Meet with Michael London
  • June 4, 1992—Decision made to do this and deposit paid to French Baking Machines for $25,000
  • July 23, 1992—Frank goes to bake at Rock Hill
  • August 4, 1992—Space chosen for the Bakehouse 
  • September 5, 1992—Equipment arrives
  • September 12, 1992—The starter is fed for the first time at the Bakehouse (it’s now been 9,997 days)
  • September 13, 1992—Staff hired and practice baking begins
  • September 14, 1992—Zingerman’s Bread arrives at Deli for the first time
  • October 12, 1992—Bread is officially sold to Deli and the bakery is open, baking the following breads: Rustic Italian, Farm Bread, Pecan Raisin, Sesame Semolina, 8 Grain 3 Seed, Jewish Rye, Challah, and Pumpernickel
  • January 28, 1993—Michael returns and we learn 6 more breads: Parmesan Pepper, Scallion Walnut, Olive Farm, Paesano, Cinnamon Raisin, and Chocolate Cherry
  • March 1, 1993—Parmesan pepper bread is introduced
  • March 7, 1994—We open a pastry kitchen
  • November 3, 1995—First major wholesale customer outside of Ann Arbor; Frank goes to Nino Salvaggio’s in the suburbs to demo and sells hundreds of loaves in a day
  • February 3, 1997—We officially open a shop with its own space
  • June 2000—We start to promote decorated celebration cakes
  • September 1, 2000—Amy Emberling joins as Managing Partner
  • November 1, 2001—We start baking Bakehouse bagels, and add a night bread shift
  • August 2006—We open BAKE!, our hands-on teaching bakery; and CAKE!, a showroom dedicated to our decorated cakes
  • September 2017—Zingerman’s Bakehouse book published to coincide with our 25th anniversary
  • September 2017—Country Miche comes out
  • October 2018—We start fresh milling of grain at the Bakehouse with our stone mill

Maturana wrote that, “Only love expands intelligence. To live in love is to accept the other and the conditions of his existence as a source of richness, not as opposition, restriction or limitation.” It’s a well-stated sort of description of mine and Frank’s relationship. While the Bakehouse was being built, as all those loaves of artisan bread and handmade pastries were being baked, the rest of the Zingerman’s Community was coming into being. Frank was there for all of it. ZingTrain, Mail Order, the Creamery, the Roadhouse, Cornman Farms, Miss Kim, Coffee, Candy, and Zingerman’s Food Tours. We’d started Food Gatherers out of the Deli in 1988. Many new partners have come, and a few partners have left. Sales have risen and fallen. Economies have collapsed, the country has gone to war. Profits have gone up and down. We started having staff partners, employees got the chance to buy a share in the business (we have over 200 of them today). Zingerman’s was mentioned in the New York TimesWall St. JournalFood and WineBon Appetit, and Gourmet; we appeared on Oprah and President Obama came to visit. Through all of it, Frank was quietly there, meaningfully helping to hold everything together, making things happen, keeping things moving, coming in to cover for sick calls, making deliveries when drivers didn’t show up, running shifts when managers found themselves overwhelmed. It’s a rare and remarkable feat. 

To take my theory of Frank’s centrality to the Zingerman’s story further, it’s not just the ZCoB that wouldn’t be what it is without Frank; I think you could probably say the same for the whole town. Having a thriving, healthy, high quality, caring bakery in the community is not to be underestimated. If you haven’t spent time living in, visiting, or studying France, it’s hard to imagine just how big a role bread plays in French culture. In the years since the Bakehouse opened here in 1992, French villages have increasingly found themselves losing their long-standing traditional bakeries. There’s still bread to be bought—but it’s all too often from supermarkets—frozen, par-baked dough that lacks the substance soul and quality of true craft bread. In France, to be without a bakery is a bit as if someone took the University of Michigan football team out of Ann Arbor. I hear figurative gasps and see heads shaking just as the absurd suggestion that it could happen. And yet, really, that is almost the scale of significance which bread and bakeries have had in French life. As one Frenchman said earlier this year after his town lost its last bakery, “Without bread, there is no more life,” said Gérard Vigot, standing in his driveway across the street from the now shuttered bakery. “This is a dead village.” Another villager, Fabien Rose, shared: “That’s why the bakery has an enormous place in a village—because bread is life.” Because of Frank’s willingness to take that leap to start the Bakehouse in 1992, to start climbing stairs that hadn’t yet been built, Ann Arbor is very much alive, a better place, with much better bread and pastry, to live. Speaking as someone who eats the Bakehouse’s bread every single day in which I’m home in Ann Arbor, and as someone who rarely leaves home without a piece of said bread in my shoulder bag, I know that my own life has been radically improved by it, and I have to believe that the lives of thousands of others have been improved as well. 

Frank, himself, would, by the way, admit nothing of the sort. I’m working now on a pamphlet about humility that I hope will come out later this year. If there could be a poster child for humility without compromising the humility of the person being recognized, Frank would be the guy. He models humility for the rest of us, every day. It’s been a common aside over the years from any number of folks who started at the Bakehouse that they worked next to Frank on the bench making bread for two months before they realized he was one of the owners. 

In the spirit of time travel, I’m working on wrapping up this essay in the lobby of a San Francisco hotel, where about two dozen people showed up in the last few hours dressed for, what I can only surmise, should likely be a ’70s party. The lobby, appropriately I suppose, smells like pot smoke. I guess it’s appropriate since it’s a party that might have happened back around the time Frank and I met. And here we are all these years, all those loaves of bread and Magic Brownies, and long meetings and difficult discussions, big and small decisions later . . . and we’re still going at it. The idea of coming to work without Frank being around, quietly holding things together in the background, is hard to fathom. 

If we’d been the Rolling Stones, then, I suppose, Frank would have been Bill Wyman, the quiet, thoughtful, somber and stoic bassist, who stood towards the back of the stage and kept the beat while everyone else was making more noise, moving around and getting a lot more attention. Because as any good musician knows, and any number of actual studies have supported, the bass player is usually the least noticed, but the most important member of the band. Last year, in Guitar World magazine, Christopher Scapelliti wrote about a study at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, about four hours to the east of Ann Arbor. He said, “the most important melodic information is carried by the highest voice, such as the lead singer or lead guitar, (but) the most vital rhythmic information by the lowest voice, i.e. the bass.” In a more Zingerman’s-appropriate assessment of the McMaster study, this past summer Anthony Capobianco wrote, “The bass guitar is like the dough in a pizza. It may not have all of the flavor like the sauce, cheese and toppings do. But without it, it’s not a pizza.” If you think it through, without the dough the sauce and the cheese just hit the hot stone and sizzle essentially into nothing. And so, my theory gains more traction, that Frank—not me, nor Paul, nor anyone else—might be the most important part of making Zingerman’s what it is.

John Martyn’s album, Solid Air, his fourth, came out in 1973, when, by my calculation, Frank and I were still in high school. I still have the actual vinyl LP. Frank’s a year older than me so if my math and memory are right, he’d have been a senior and I was a junior. Martyn wrote the album’s title song about Nick Drake, another English folk singer, who had been his close friend. Drake died, probably of an unintentional overdose, a year later, in 1974, the year in which I first arrived to live in Ann Arbor and attend U of M. Their friendship was sadly, cut short. Which reminds me again now how incredibly fortunate I feel that mine and Frank’s has been anything but. Forty years later, we remain friends, supporters, gentle guardians of each other’s solitude. What John Martyn wrote about his friend seems in the second stanza of Solid Air, still, quietly appropriate for my friend and partner Frank all these years later. 

I know you, I love you
And I can be your friend
I can follow you anywhere
Even through solid air