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How Zingerman’s Built a Corner Deli into a Food Empire

Being from the Midwest, one of my favorite delis has always been Zingerman’s’ in Michigan. But how did it go from a corner deli to a $70M food empire?

On The Small Business Radio Show this week, Micheline “Micki” Maynard is a journalist, author, and professor. She is a contributing columnist at The Washington Post, where her essays on business and culture appear in Voices Across America. She has been a senior editor at NPR’s Here & Now and was a senior correspondent and Detroit bureau chief for The New York Times. She is the author of four books including her new book is “Satisfaction Guaranteed: How Zingerman’s Built a Corner Deli into a Global Food Community”.

Micki talks about how Zingerman’s founding principles – good food, good service, and good business – and how those principles guided the company as it expanded yet stayed local. In a unique move, they practiced “Open Book Management –– providing all employees open access to company finances, so that they can be maximally informed and involved in all aspects of running the company”. Micki explains this principle fully, discussing its benefits to businesses of all sizes, and explains how businesses can incorporate this practice themselves.

Another component of Zingerman’s model is visioning which is “a very specific practice of writing out goals and intentions that the company’s founders use to guide every decision they make for their business”. Micki explains what visioning is, and how other businesses can use this practice to improve their long- and short-term planning.

From the beginning, Zingerman’s practiced “Servant Leadership” based on the belief that “leaders exist to serve the organization, which includes the managers, employees, and customers equally”. Micki explains what this looks like in practice for Zingerman’s, and how other businesses can model this leadership style themselves.

Responding to the pandemic – like every business, the pandemic hit Zingerman’s hard. Micki talks about how Zingerman’s adapted and pivoted to make sure their business remained profitable, even while ensuring that employee health and safety remained a top priority.

Listen to the entire interview on The Small Business Radio Show.

Image: Micheline Maynard

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