Macaroni and Cheese With a Side of Leadership

The Scene:

The restaurant is buzzing with conversation.  The clinking of glasses and silverware can be heard above the laughter.  Scents of barbeque and aromatic flavors permeate the room.  Enter a man who moves from table to table, quietly filling the water glasses.

Restaurant Attendant (smiling):  “You like the mac and cheese?”

You (eyes wide open): “Are you kidding?  I didn’t even know you could do this with macaroni and cheese!  Fantastic.”


Attendant: “That macaroni is handmade for us by the Martelli family in Tuscany.  Just what we wanted.  The two-year-old Vermont cheddar cheese is caramelized.  We thought the combination was perfect.”

You, thinking, but not saying aloud, “Who is this guy? What type of water boy knows this stuff?”

Attendant, interrupting your thoughts: “Do you want some more bread?  You’re eating the Roadhouse bread, but you may also want to try the Irish Brown Soda bread tonight.”

You: “Is it as good as what we’re eating now?”

Attendant: “Depends on your taste, but it’s good.  We source the oatmeal from the Creedon family, the same family who makes our Irish stone ground oatmeal.  It makes the flavor and texture.  I’ll be right back with some for you to taste.  Oh, and I’d love to give you a taste of our barbeque tonight.”

You (turning to me, shrugging as he leaves):  “Who is THAT?”

Me: “That, my friend, is Ari, the most unusual water boy you will ever meet.  He’s the owner!”

You (feigned choking):  “The owner?!”

It’s true.  Ari Weinzweig is one of the restaurant owners, but he also fills water glasses at the restaurant.  Yes, you read that right.  As a partner in a multi-million dollar conglomerate, he personally walks around filling water glasses in order to stay close to the customers.

Ah, Zingerman’s.

It’s one of my favorite places.  When I was visiting Ann Arbor, Michigan, recently, I kissed the floor as I entered (well, at least it appeared that way.  I’m too sanitary to actually do that!).

Never heard of Zingerman’s?  5 Things You Want to Know:

  1. It’s WOW!
  2. Forget restaurant.  Think culinary experience.  Your taste buds will thank you for visiting.  If you don’t live near Ann Arbor, you can join the bread of the month club.  Or even the bacon of the month club. 
  3. Don’t think you’re visiting a small business.  Try the feeling of visiting a friend’s house.  Remember the bar Cheers where everyone knows your name?  It had been a few years since my last visit, but they remembered my name.  But not just my name.  They remembered my wife’s name.  My daughter’s name.  They even wrote a personal note and dropped it in my “to go” bag with a special gift for me to take home.
  4. It’s a customer service example like few other businesses.  They don’t want you to be satisfied; they want you to be enthralled.
  5. It’s not just a restaurant.  In fact, what started in downtown Ann Arbor as Zingerman’s Delicatessen has expanded to include a growing family of businesses.  Ari, and his partner, Paul Saginaw, have continued to expand the business.  From mail order to the Bakehouse, a training business, a creamery, a coffee company, a catering business, a publisher, a candy manufactory, the list of entrepreneurial companies continues to grow each year.

No wonder they have a cult-like following.  No wonder the staff turnover is so low.  No wonder they have won numerous international awards and were even highlighted by Inc. Magazine as “The Coolest Small Company in America.”

For all of these reasons, when I think about leadership, customer service, culture and strategy, I think about Ari Weinzweig and “my” Zingerman’s family.

5 Questions for Your Business

Here are five questions to consider:

  1. Do you cut corners or do you use the best ingredients you can find?
  2. Do you care about your employees and customers personally?
  3. Do you lead as a servant or as a dictator?
  4. Do you create memorable experiences?
  5. Do you become part of the local community by giving back?

Over the years, Ari has become a friend of mine and his example of servant leadership is motivating.  Today, I wanted to introduce Zingerman’s.  A future post will feature an interview with Ari.


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