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.