Announcing Our Newest Zingerman’s Stewardship Council Member

Photo of Grace Singleton Headshot

We’re governing with grace… and Grace (Grace Singleton, that is!)

“Is Zingerman’s still run by its founders?” you ask. That’s a great question. We’ll answer with a tale, both old and new (just like our pickles!). What began with the Delicatessen, founded in 1982 by Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, now includes 11 food and service businesses, 18 managing partners, 800 employees, and a council of leaders among leaders (hang tight, we’ll explain that in a minute).

An Overview of Zingerman’s Governance

Since 1994, the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (ZCoB) has been steered by our Partners Group (PG), a group that includes Ari and Paul, the ZCoB’s managing partners (the individual business owner-operators), and staff partners (staff members who own a Community Share; they serve two-year terms). As Ari explains:

It’s where we govern the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses—we use consensus decision-making there to lead the organization. The PG makes decisions on organization-wide issues, like deciding to approve our new 2032 Vision or our new Statement of Beliefs. Or if there was, in a strange sci-fi sort of scenario, just for conversation’s sake, let’s say a global pandemic, the PG is where we would decide how to deal with it.

One important piece that the 2032 Vision outlines is the ZCoB’s evolution of governance:

… we’ve seen a successful transition from Ari and Paul as founders heading the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (ZCoB) to a mode of governance that will last beyond the tenure of any individual. While long-time ZCoB leaders continue in important roles, a couple of new “generations” of insightful, collaborative folks have stepped forward.

That mode of governance is the Zingerman’s Stewardship Council, a five-member group created in 2020 as part of a succession plan to transition the leadership of the organization from its founders to the other managing partners. To be clear, the Partners Group isn’t going anywhere, rather, as Ari says, “The Stewardship Council is filling the role Paul and I have filled for many years as ‘leaders among leaders.’” He adds:

Our main focus in doing this work with the Stewardship Council is, by far and away, looking at how we can do what we do here at Zingerman’s ever more effectively. We want it to be a way to help lead the ZCoB in becoming an ever-bigger contributor to the community of which we’re a part. We want to support succession and inspire future success. We’re committed to creating a governance model that will help both the organization and everyone in it to thrive for many decades to come.

Photos of the stewardship council members.

The original council members include Amy Emberling, Zingerman’s Bakehouse co-managing partner; Toni Morell, Zingerman’s Mail Order co-managing partner; Tom Root, Zingerman’s Mail Order co-managing partner; Ron Maurer, Zingerman’s Chief Administrative Officer and Zingerman’s Service Network managing partner; and Ari Weinzweig. Council members serve three-year terms, and just like the Partners Group, decisions are made using consensus. In June of 2023, we reached the end of the first set of three-year terms. The Council has been designed so that one of these original managing partners will come off each year—the first was Ron Maurer who has his eye on retirement in 2023 after more than two decades with the organization—and a new one is selected. Ari explains how that happens:

Our agreed-upon process for selecting members is that Paul and I, as co-founding partners, consult with our staff partners (since they’re not eligible to be on the Council) and others whose views we value, to make the decision. After a LOT of conversation, and honoring what we believe is the best decision for the organization, we chose the next member. 

This time, Ari and Paul offered the spot to Grace Singleton, co-managing partner of Zingerman’s Deli since 2004. Grace knew from the beginning that she was destined for a life full of food (and she may or may not have thought the food industry would be glamorous thanks to a New Orleans restaurant where she received special treatment, sitting at the captain’s table and sampling Frangelico (a hazelnut liquor) at the age of 13!).  Grace received her culinary degree at Paul Smith’s College in New York and managed restaurants across Ohio (we don’t hold this against her) and Michigan.

She found her way to Ann Arbor for the role of general manager at the Gandy Dancer and became a fan of Zingerman’s Deli. Eventually, she made the jump, calling it “the very best job in the food industry,” and in 2004, she stepped up from retail manager to co-managing partner. Since then, Grace has overseen the gold level LEED-certified Deli expansion project (2010–2014), the opening of Zingerman’s Greyline event space (2016), the addition of virtual tasting events for fans around the country (2021), and more, all while continuing to lead the day-to-day of Deli catering and retail specialty foods. (Impressive, right?!) Of this new role and her latest opportunity to impact the Zingerman’s organization and the Ann Arbor community, she says:

I’ve been here for more than 20 years and I’m really invested in the transition of our CEO’s roles. Ari in particular set the stage with his dedication to doing business differently and how we govern is an important part of that. I look forward to working toward our future with this committed group.

Want to read more? Ari wrote about Grace’s addition to the Council and the work of the Stewardship Council in Ari’s Top 5, his weekly e-newsletter, saying, “Success leads to succession work which, when done well, helps create more success. It’s a very virtuous and very inspiring cycle to be a part of.”