Zingerman’s of Ann Arbor Focuses on Corporate Culture As Much As Their Product. Should You?

Zingerman’s of Ann Arbor Focuses on Corporate Culture As Much As Their Product. Should You?

A discussion with Amy Emberling

September 21, 2022 | JIM SERPICO

In the latest podcast episode of Bread For the People, I sit down with Amy Emberling, a founding partner of Ann Arbor’s Zingerman’s Bakehouse. Here’s an excerpt of my interview with Amy.

I know you went to Harvard. What did you study there? 

So I went to Harvard, and there’s this department there that still exists, it has the worst name ever, you’re going to laugh. It was called Social Studies. So everybody makes fun of it to this day. I don’t even like to explain it. It was sort of an interdisciplinary…you actually had to apply, to be able to get into this program, and you had to take a certain amount of social philosophy, sociology and history, and economics, but you could put together what you wanted to study. So I studied American social movements, and it’s a good connection to why I’m at Zingerman’s because I wanted to know how you brought about change and why some movements were successful and why other movements were not successful. And at Zingerman’s, I think an underpinning of the work we’re doing is trying to do things differently, so in a sense, it’s building a community that is trying to bring about change in the workplace. So it fits with what I was interested in on a more philosophical level. 

So what kind of change in the workplace have you guys brought forward? 

That’s a really interesting question. We’re known for service, and I know every company talks about service and says, “Oh, we give good service,” but we really define service, and then we teach what the definition is. And we track service. I asked our frontline staff to document what we call Code Red, so if a customer is unhappy about something or a customer just suggests something different that they want, that all gets documented. And then Code Greens when somebody is happy. So how we do service, I think it has changed how other people do service in the Ann Arbor area. 

And then through Z-Train, our training company, they teach people from all over the country and all over the world about lots of things we do. But I think that we’ve made some sort of a difference in terms of service. 

We also practice open book management, which we did not create. But I think it made a big difference for people who work in our businesses because we teach them about the game of business. So they’re not coming to work and rolling their thousandth roll or piece of bread dough. They’re learning about what makes a difference in a bakery, what makes great food, and how it all plays out financially. So I think creating that work environment is truly making a difference.

To what extent are they privy to the books? 

The only thing that’s not open is what everybody earns. But they have complete access to the P & L and the cash flow statement. Not very many people ask to see that. Still, it’s there if they ask. But what happens, really day to day is that each department in the Zingerman’s community businesses is supposed to have a weekly meeting, what we call a huddle.  And at the huddle, that department goes over the key metrics and the key financial management metrics for their areas. Usually, that group defines what they want the key metrics to be. 

So I’ll give you an example. In our bread bakery, they meet weekly, and they talk about what were the sales. What were the sales last week? What were they supposed to be? What was the plan? What did we think they were going to be? What had we forecasted? And then what was the actual? Then they talked about, okay, the week that we’re in and next week, what do we think it’s supposed to be, and how are we going to get there? Then they talk about the food cost and labor costs. And then they talk about things like accidents, safety measures, how many people aren’t out of their basic training, and sort of more management metrics. When the whole bakehouse meets, we also talk about what our cash is and what our profit is. They have access to all that information, not just access, but they are taught what it means and what you do to impact it. 

You mentioned social change and community, and we talked about how you guys deal with that internally. How about externally? I think it’s pretty known that Zingerman’s gives back to the community in a big way. Could you tell us a little bit about that? 

So we give back about ten percent of our net operating profit every year to the community in terms of cash and in-kind. They often say businesses really reflect the values of the leaders. Both Paul and Ari are incredibly generous people. Generous of spirit and generous financially. And then Frank Carollo, the founder of the Bakehouse, I’ve just learned from him about being generous. I always think that emotionally I’ve been generous with people and happy to give time and energy, and support. Still, I was not maybe always as financially generous, as I’m not sure I had the resources they had. But, right from the beginning, Paul said it’s important to me that we give to the community. 

So we made this agreement amongst the partners to give back ten percent of our profit. And so we give to all kinds of the not-for-profits in town. We helped build what’s called the Delonis Center for the Homeless. We pledged something like two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to get that building built. Then we also were the founding business for what’s called Food Gatherers. That was one of the first organizations that collected food from the restaurants and grocery stores that were going to be thrown away to repurpose it and get it to people who really needed it. So in all those ways, that’s how we give to the community. 

Amy came to Zingerman’s Bakehouse when it opened in 1992 as one of the original bakers on the staff of eight. She soon became the first manager of the bread bakery, and then the manager of the pastry kitchen. In 2000, she became a partner.

Amy has been working in the food world for over 30 years. She’s passionate about hands-on baking, teaching about baking and business, developing businesses and people. As well as teaching at BAKE! Amy presents for ZingTrain on our business practices. A few of the Bakehouse items she is personally responsible for developing are the Old School Apple Pie, Buenos Aires Brownies, and our Gingerbread Coffee Cake. In addition to developing items, Amy is a promoter of classic bakery favorites from many cultures and has brought traditional standards to the Bakehouse such as Paris BrestHummingbird Cake, and Dobos Torta.

Follow Jim Serpico on Facebook @bread4thepeoplepod and Instagram at @jimserpico


powered by Sounder

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *