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Zingerman’s coffee was estab­lished in Ann Arbor. Jonathan Meckel| Courtesy

Observant stu­dents and faculty might have noticed the new Zingerman’s chocolate candies for sale alongside the other candy bars at A.J.’s Cafe, but Hillsdale has served Zingerman’s coffee to stu­dents for a few years.   

“This will be our fifth year part­nering with Zingerman’s for coffee,” A.J.’s Lead Super­visor Lisa Beasley said. 

Just about 70 miles north of Hillsdale, the company has a lot more brewing for them than just exotic coffee and delec­table candy bars. While Hillsdale’s rela­tionship with Zingerman’s is still young, Zingerman’s legacy as a company is more than three decades old.  

My first encounter with Zingerman’s included two visits: first, to the company’s del­i­catessen, and then to its Korean restaurant, Miss Kim — both sit­uated on Detroit Street and East Kingsley in downtown Ann Arbor. Since its inception in 1982, the simple deli has expanded to include a sep­arate bakery to fill its need for bread. With the deli’s success, the brand formed a con­glom­erate including the Bake­house, Creamery, Coffee Company, Candy Man­u­factory, Miss Kim, and the Road­house.

The Southside facility, the central hub for Zingerman’s busi­nesses, resembles an indus­trial complex with iden­tical plain steel ware­houses and a large asphalt parking lot. 

Don’t be fooled by appear­ances, though. 

Further explo­ration revealed that the large, plain buildings hold gems such as The Coffee Company, Creamery, Bake­house, Candy Man­u­factory, and Zing Train. Col­orful round signs and bright chairs in front of the gray shops add life and an invi­tation to enter. 

A bell sig­naled our arrival as we opened the door to the Coffee Company, and several enthu­si­astic baristas greeted my college friend and trav­eling com­panion Jonathan, and me. The high, gray ceiling walls, and ground would not be very wel­coming, save for the vibrant menus and fur­niture that add color and char­acter to the shop.  A massive coffee chart titled “The Big Brew Board” adorned the wall behind the cash reg­ister, offering cus­tomers 15 unique coffee roasts and seven brewing methods. 

My nose was over­whelmed by the plethora of coffee bean blends from Brazil, Colombia, Hawaii, Tan­zania, and Yemen, to name a few. I even­tually settled on the Road­house Joe blend roasted via the syphon method. 

The barista started with the upper glass assembly called the “hopper” and placed a filter on the bottom of the glass.  Next, she poured hot water into the bottom glass com­ponent called the “bulb.”  When the two pieces were stacked ver­ti­cally, she added a small stove under­neath the bulb to bring the water to a boil. After the water bubbled almost com­pletely into the hopper, the coffee grounds were added and stirred with a bamboo stick.  As the barista stirred the coffee, it slowly slipped back into the bulb. The bulb was then poured into my glass and cooled for several minutes. 

“Created in the 1700s, the syphon method is the oldest method we brew coffee here,” a barista said.

No matter the task, the team of jovial employees kindly served and inter­acted with the cus­tomers.  Regardless of how seri­ously they took the brewing or chocolate crafting, both stores greeted each cus­tomer as they arrived, bid cus­tomers farewell when they left, and made an effort to make each customer’s expe­rience unique and upbeat.

“My favorite part of working here [at the Coffee Company] is giving others the Zingerman’s expe­rience and making their day,” said Retail Manager Stacy.  

With our blood­streams full of sugar and caf­feine, we sojourned 15 minutes north to the birth­place of the beloved Zingerman’s Del­i­catessen.  

Con­struction crews clogged the brick streets, and finding a parking place was an adventure of its own. 

But the reward was well worth the trek. 

Hungry reg­ulars of the Deli weren’t deterred by the ripped-up roads and flocked toward the teal front door. The aged analog clock beside the massive wall menu revealed that it was a quarter to two, but fam­ished sandwich seekers didn’t seem to notice. Here the smell of fresh bread and meat reigned supreme, and the sound of the grill siz­zling and indis­tinct chatter created a homely ambience. Waiters and wait­resses were eager to answer any ques­tions and swiftly serve cus­tomers their food. 

Picking one of the more than 80 options for a sandwich was a chal­lenge, but its cus­tomer-voted top-10 list rec­om­mended the Zingerman’s reuben, a classic reuben with corned beef, Swiss cheese, and sauer­kraut on hand-sliced Jewish rye bread. The one sig­nif­icant dif­ference was a Russian dressing instead of Thousand Island dressing. The result was deli­cious and other cus­tomers reflected a similar euphoric sandwich encounter. 

“You should see [the Deli] during football games,” cus­tomer Mark Heben­streit said. “It’s almost impos­sible to find a seat.”  

Despite living on the West Coast, Heben­streit still makes the pil­grimage to Zingerman’s because of the quality of the sandwich and Zingerman expe­rience. That expe­rience pro­vided through impec­cable service, high-spirited employees, and quality farm to fresh products will leave you wanting more of ‘the goods’ that they create. 

Retail Manager of Candy Man­u­factory, Kim, said, “I love the Zingerman culture, which pro­vides pos­itive support for employees and focuses on a good time for its cus­tomers.”

While A.J.’s Cafe carries a few of Zingerman’s coffee and candy products, it is a great place to get acquainted with this company, and hope­fully spark interest in going to Ann Arbor to see it for oneself.