The Ann Arbor Chronicle » Zingerman’s it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 In It For The Money: Presidential Stinkburger Mon, 07 Apr 2014 15:29:41 +0000 David Erik Nelson The President of the United States visited Ann Arbor on April 2. If you want to know what he said, you can read a faithful transcript right here, or just watch the unedited remarks.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

But none of that puts you in the room with the PotUS. Hearing the same four presidential soundbites about Zingerman’s and minimum wage played over and over again on the radio certainly gives you the gist of what was said; none of it was earth shattering.

In fact, I’d wager that most Chronicle readers could generate a fairly accurate facsimile of the remarks made by the PotUS working strictly from First Principles. You know what politicians are like: Y’all a good looking crowd! God bless America! Handshake-babykiss-SMILE! You know what excites East Coasters about Ann Arbor: Zingerman’s! Sportsball! Wolverines! And you know how PotUS stands on the minimum wage: Raise it!

None of that puts you in the room.

And you’re likely inclined to say: So what? What’s the use of being in the room? What’s the bother of showing up in a specific time and place to see something that’ll be on YouTube ten minutes after it happens, to be watched at my leisure? Hell, Dave: Why did you bother wasting so many hours to be in that room? Don’t you have better things to do with your time?

And, while I do have better things (or at least better paid things) to do with my time, there’s always value in being in the room. In abstract, there’s value because being in the room is The Job. It’s what I’ve said I will do for you: I will show the hell up, and tell you what the hell I saw. This is the baseline contract any newspaper should have with its readers.

And specifically, on this occasion, there was value in being in the room because some things do not come across in articles and the op-eds and the clips and soundbites – not even in the unedited audio or video. There are intangibles – including all of the things that are outside the frame of the camera, too far away for the mics to pick up, or of little interest to the reporters on hand.

In The Room With The President

Appropriately enough, the venue for the visit was the basketball court at the top of the University of Michigan Intramural Building. This is an old building – constructed in 1927-38 – and the basketball court is a general purpose gymnasium: no bleachers, no built in hoops. Enormous windows allow excellent natural light, and the balls get dribbled on maple floors (which UM notes are original, and somewhat oddly constructed). All told, the innocuous IM Building is a goddamned fortress. It’s an open box with good light and excellent acoustics.

April 2, 2014 IM building on the University of Michigan campus: U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the assembly.

April 2, 2014 IM building on the University of Michigan campus: U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the assembly.

About half the space – the half with a conspicuous maize-and-blue MICHIGAN painted on the brickwork – had been prepped for remarks from the PotUS. It was cordoned off, then broken into two roughly equal-sized seating areas: “blue ticket” to the left, and “red ticket” to the right.

The red ticket section had seating, and was populated by Local Dignitaries (the mayor, UM Regents, Jon Conyers, a prominent metro-area family of personal-injury attorneys, etc.) and People Who Deserved Chairs (several UM sports stars, folks whose jackets prominently advertised their labor union affiliations, a voluble Detroiter in a track-suit who didn’t like banjo music and identified all of these people for me, etc.) The student section offered a row of portable bleachers against the wall beneath a sign reading OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL – which, when you think about it, doesn’t really have much to do with minimum wage, unless you’re really stretching it – and the rest of the space was standing-room-only.

These two sections embraced a little stage and podium for the PotUS, which was backed by another set of bleachers – packed with hand-picked UM students – and a very, very large American flag. In case you’re wondering: Yes, the students in the bleachers behind the PotUS were markedly more attractive than those who had seemingly randomly packed the bleachers in the “student section.”

The ethno-racial and gender breakdown of both bleachers and the student crowd seemed to be balanced, although I got the distinct sense that neither is a good match for the current race distribution at the university. That’s a topic for some other column, some other time (likely written by some other guy). This was all encircled by ring of steel made of the sort of portable railings I’ve seen used for ad-hoc cattle pens.

Orbiting all of this was a crescent of media. Some of the media were held on two risers (one directly opposite the PotUS, one to the right, sorta-kinda mirroring the student bleachers). These were crowded with thickets of tripods and cameramen. A roped off section of folding tables was packed with media folks crouched over lap tops. The rest of us journalistic rabble crowded at the cattle railing.

A very nicely dressed person wearing a “volunteer” badge told me that 1,400 people were in attendance. I have no idea of that number included media and staff. If not, then give that number a healthy bump of at least 10 percent or more.

Frankly, I have a lot of questions about much of the media. For example, of the folks like me crowded at the rail, very few were operating cameras, or holding recorders, or taking any sort of notes, or using cameras to do anything other than attempt to snap a selfie of themselves and the PotUS – who was no less than 65 feet away, standing behind a podium on a raised stage, and busy giving advice to college kids.

I'd totally planned to take a sort of half-joking, post-ironic selfie with PotUS in the background. But watching all these other folks do exactly this same thing  (1) drove home how painfully unoriginal my originality is; and (2) was totally, totally mortifying. So here's a photo of my press pass instead.

I’d totally planned to take a sort of half-joking, post-ironic selfie with PotUS in the background. But watching all these other folks do exactly this same thing (1) drove home how painfully unoriginal my originality is; and (2) was totally, totally mortifying. So here’s a photo of my press pass instead.

The point here, mostly, is that I’ve seen this crowd in other media accounts described as “raucous students.” And I just want to make the point that much of it (certainly in terms of floor space) was not students.

And although the students were exuberant, they were remarkably orderly given the circumstances. The lag between the audience load-in and the President’s actual remarks was at least 90 minutes, during which the organizers played looped, tinny banjo music at extremely high volume.

No one liked that music, and while the folks near me (I was on the rail behind the Local Dignitaries and Other Chair Sitters) were starting to get vocal on this topic, the close-packed students were happy as clams in a very crowded kettle.

The PotUS Is Such A Dad

What is the PotUS? For one thing, apparently, he is a Dad. And I don’t just mean to say he’s the biological father to Sasha and Malia; there hasn’t been childless PotUS since James K. Polk (who, Batmanishly, took on a nephew as his ward – so you could argue there’s never been a childless PotUS). I’m talking about the Nature of the sitting PotUS. George W. Bush was a “Cool” Big Brother – which is to say half rake, half bully. His father was a Study Hall Proctor. Reagan was, obviously, a Hollywood Actor. Clinton? He was an Elvis. And the current PotUS is a total Dad.

The PotUS arrived in his shirtsleeves, because he was ready to Get Down to Business and Hit Us with Some Straight Talk about wages and stuff. The PotUS complimented us as good-looking, and commended our work ethic and academic achievements. He seemed to legitimately admire the quality of the prominent sportsball players in the audience, which pleased the audience a great deal.

Then, like somebody’s dad, the PotUS cajolingly admonished us to sit down – which might have seemed sort of cryptic to home-viewers, because the crowd was cropped out of the shot. Everyone had given a standing ovation upon his entrance, and then remained standing. Many folks were standing on their rickety folding chairs – which any dad will tell you is dangerous, and bad for the chairs. C’mon, guys; settle down. I’ve gotta talk to you about something important.

This was all in the first three minutes and thirty seconds of his speech.

He went on to tell an anecdote about his lunch (Zingerman’s! ZINGERMAN’S!!!). He gave some really legit advice on properly structuring your college debt, and suggested that it’s important always to be polite when arguing with folks about politics. He may have advised us to neither be a borrower nor a lender, and to our own selves be true – I’d need to double check my recording.

Such dad-ish digressions were peppered throughout the presentation. The speech was taken up by long stretches during which the PotUS was clearly working crisply from the prompters and notes – stretches indistinguishable from every speech of his you’ve seen on video. And then we’d hit one of these sparkly little patches where the PotUS could be your pal’s dad, driving you to the movies in the family minivan, periodically craning back to explain something about compounding interest, or the infield fly rule, or why you always want to be sure your tires are at the appropriate PSI.

You know, standard issue dad small talk.

But the most dad-ish run in his remarks starts around 25 minutes in to the speech. The PotUS is talking about GOP economic policies, which seem to be in a rut: The same ideas stuck on repeat, despite being neither popular nor effective. He gets a little salty about the most recent attempt to repeal Obamacare: “Because they haven’t tired that fifty times!” And then about a minute later PotUS drops in a joke comparing these stuck-on-repeat GOP tactics to the film “Groundhog Day” – “except it isn’t funny.”

Now, I believe that line was scripted – and maybe not as a joke, precisely. He really seemed legitimately peeved at that point, just as he had with the “fifty times” jab a minute earlier. But the Groundhog Day joke turned into an actual laugh line for the audience – one that got a really disproportionate response. It really landed.

And you could sense the PotUS becoming emboldened, in the way dads will. You can see it in the video, a hint of it, but there in the room, you could feel the antic energy gathering. Even from 65 feet away, standing behind the crowd, I could feel a dad joke coming. It was like the portentous pressure front that precedes a tornado; my ears popped, wasps went nuts, squirrels fled, dogs barked at locked doors.

“If they tried to sell this sandwich at Zingerman’s,” the PotUS said, struggling to suppress his glee, “they’d have to call it [tiny pause] the Stinkburger.

I’m quite confident that somewhere in Washington D.C., at 3:19 p.m. on April 2, Sasha and Malia found themselves spontaneously rolling their eyes. “Oh no,” they gasped, miles apart, yet in perfect unison, “Somewhere, Dad’s trying to be ‘funny.’ ”

The crowd in the IM building was perplexed, thinking Did the President of the United States just say “Stinkburger”? I know this, because the two cameraless-notepadless-compterless-recorderless “media” people behind me – “mean girls” from central casting in pastel blouses and dark pant suits, who’d been snarking throughout the preceding 28 minutes – said aloud exactly that:

Ohmagawd. Did he just say ‘Stinkburger’?!

Frankly, they were just saying what the rest of us were thinking – at least at that moment. The other 28 minutes of their chatter was all just catty bullshit about people, places, and outfits I couldn’t conceivably have cared less about. But in that moment, we were all together, all of us, from the most exalted student athlete to the lowliest scribbler, joined of a single mind, wondering:

Did the guy who makes the drone kill list just say “Stinkburger”?

True to form for a dad, our chagrin did not dissuade the President of the United States and Leader of the Free World. There was joke there somewhere, and he could feel it. From across the crowded room, I could see him groping for that laugh-line.

So he groped on dad-style after the Stinkburger until he found something else: “Or the … or the … or the … or the Meanwhich!” Nailed it!

Ohhh. Dag, Mr. Obama. That’s … that’s not great. You can pull over and drop us off here. We’ll walk the rest of the way to the mall.

That joke just hung there, stagnant and awful as a fart in a car. And then we all laughed, because – just like that fart in a car – the awfulness, and the fact that we were all caught in that awfulness together, was itself sorta funny.

Dad Jokes, Domestic Policy

It’s been interesting to see the Stinkburger joke spin out across the political universe, especially among folks who weren’t in the room. In the local coverage – much of which, I can verify, was based on first-hand accounts – the Stinkburger didn’t seem to merit much mention. Nationally, it gained some traction in the Twitter feeds of elected Republicans, who were suitably outraged (but not there, in the room with us). Now, over the last few days, it’s been shoehorned into the headlines and ledes of articles in Business Insider,,, the Washington Post, etc. – as though it’s a legitimate expression of executive policy.

In case there’s any question, there is no “Executive Order: To Hell with GOP Stinkburgers!”

But treating any part of the PotUS’s April 2 remarks as legitimate political rhetoric meant to sway a dubious electorate is just as nutty. He didn’t come here to convince 1,400 people in the Upper Midwest that raising the minimum wage by $2.85 is a good idea. We’d all waited hours to get in, gone through the security rigamarole, and then stood around for another couple hours listening to excruciating banjo music. The folks who were on board came because they were already on board. The folks who weren’t came so that they could find something to be angry about.

He came to give us what we want: A sense of connection with the Leader of the Free World.

And, true to his agreeable nature and intent to be an aisle-bridging centrist, the PotUS gave everyone exactly what they needed – even the folks who just want to be pissed off at him, even the folks who didn’t show up to be in the room.

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Detroit & Kingsley Wed, 20 Nov 2013 22:58:21 +0000 Mary Morgan Mike at Zingerman’s Deli demonstrates how he can write in a style that matches the font used in Zingerman’s signs. He says he gives certain letters his own personal twist, but otherwise it’s dead-on. [photo]

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A2: “Thrive-able” Wages Thu, 19 Sep 2013 21:31:46 +0000 Chronicle Staff In an opinion piece published by the Detroit News, Zingerman’s co-founder Paul Saginaw describes his company’s efforts to pay its food-service workers more than the federally mandated living wage. He writes: ”We would be irresponsible employers if the jobs we provided could not support housing stability and health security. So we are motivated to gradually raise wages to a ‘thrive-able level’ for all of our lowest-paid employees across the board. A living wage is the path to a living economy and the antidote to the current suicide economy trajectory we find ourselves on.” [Source]

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A2: Business Tue, 05 Mar 2013 15:10:04 +0000 Chronicle Staff An article on RH Reality Check explores the efforts by Ann Arbor-based Zingerman’s to develop a “thriveable wage” for its employees. Excerpts from a vision statement: “Higher wages lead to higher morale and is the engine that keeps everything spiraling upward. In many cases, productivity increases due to lowered stress levels in the lives of the people in our organization because of assurance that their financial needs are covered.” [Source]

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Island Lake Road, Dexter Fri, 01 Mar 2013 03:59:44 +0000 Chuck Bultman The pre-Civil War barn west of Jenny’s is being dismantled. It started Monday and it’s naked as of Thursday (Feb. 28). The barn is going to be restored and brought back to continue to serve this property for the next 160 years or so. Pictures taken Sunday [photo], Wednesday [photo] and Thursday [photo].

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Zingerman’s: Making It Right for the HDC Sat, 13 Mar 2010 23:38:03 +0000 Dave Askins Employees at Zingerman’s Deli – or any of the Zingerman’s family of businesses – are trained to handle complaints from customers with a five-step process. The third step: Make it right.

Zingerman's Deli Building

Plans to build an addition behind the brick Zingerman’s Deli building will ultimately require approval from the city’s historic district commission. (Photos by the writer.)

Zingerman’s itself is “handling a complaint” from the city’s Historic District Commission (HDC) – one that can be traced back to a June 2008 Zingerman’s request to demolish two houses, which are located in the city’s Old Fourth Ward historic district.

Now Zingerman’s is bringing back another proposal, but this time they’re not starting formally with the HDC. Instead, they’ll begin by seeking approvals from the city’s planning commission and the city council.

The site plan calls for a two-story, 9,500-square-foot structure to be added to the rear of the deli building, which will carry a price tag of around $4 million. The new building would replace the house at 322 E. Kingsley St. and extend lengthwise towards Community High School.

Zingerman’s started satisfying the formal steps for getting approval of their expansion project this week, on Monday, March 8, by holding a citizens participation meeting.

But Zingerman’s has also met informally with the HDC at two separate work sessions since the start of the year – one in January and the other on Thursday, March 11. Based on a significant change in design between those two meetings, which integrates “the orange house” into the project instead of demolishing it, Zingerman’s is trying to “make it right” for the HDC.

Still, at Thursday’s HDC work session, the Zingerman’s team stressed how great the challenges were – financial and logistical – to preserving the orange house as part of the project design. It seemed apparent that Zingerman’s was making an implicit pitch for members of the HDC to give a green light for the previously proposed project – the one minus both houses.

It was clear enough, in any case, that Jill Thacher – the city planning department’s historic preservation specialist – finally said towards the end of the meeting: “We’ve been over that. I want to keep you from going back to that.”

Background: Certificates, Notices, Zoning Change

In June 2008, the first step Zingerman’s took with their project was to request permission to demolish the two houses from the city’s historic district commission. This time around, Zingerman’s will first seek approval from the city’s planning commission and city council, and then ask for approval from the historic district commission.

Understanding the reason for ordering things differently this time requires a clear understanding of the difference between two notions: (i) a certificate of appropriateness; and (ii) a notice to proceed.

It’s also useful to understand how the zoning code has changed for part of the land since June 2008.

Background:  Certificates of Appropriateness

The minutes from the historic district commission’s June 12, 2008 meeting show that the commission considered Zingerman’s application to demolish two houses – along with a garage – as an application for a certificate of appropriateness. This is one “flavor” of the kind of permission that the HDC can grant.

That application was brought before the HDC without a site plan or drawings to show what Zingerman’s planned to build there. What Zingerman’s had planned at that point was a 3-story new building, compared to the 2-story building that is now being proposed.

During the June 12, 2008 HDC public hearing on the matter, the lack of a presentation on their actual plans was a point on which  Zingerman’s drew criticism. Responding to that criticism, Ken Clein, an architect with Quinn Evans who is working on the project, explained the absence of a specific site plan. From the HDC minutes of that meeting:

Applicant Rebuttal: Mr. Clein – [...] the fact that they are not presenting plans or designs to replace these structures with. It was at the suggestion of staff that we separate that issue from the issue for request for demolition.

The issuance of a certificate of appropriateness for work in an historic district depends in part on whether the building in question is a “contributing” or  a “non-contributing” resource. A building that’s determined to be “non-contributing” is more easily altered than a building that’s “contributing,” under the Secretary of the Interior standards governing historic renovation.

A recent case of requested demolition in the Old West Side historic district – unrelated to Zingerman’s proposal in the Old Fourth Ward – highlighted the same issue of “contributing” versus “non-contributing” buildings. Permission to demolish two houses and a gas station on Second Street was sought by the developer of the Liberty Lofts project, to make it possible to construct additional parking spaces. He’d hoped that the potential for adding parking spaces would help attract a retail tenant for the still-vacant space in the greenhouse structure at First & Washington. [Chronicle coverage: "Demolition in Historic District?" and "Historic Commission: No Approval for Demolition"]

The HDC found the gas station – at the corner of Liberty & Second – to be non-contributing, but found the houses to be contributing. Commissioners voted to issue a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the garage, but wound up splitting 3-3 on all possible resolutions on the two houses.

Similarly, in June 2008 the HDC voted to issue a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition of the Zingerman’s non-contributing garage, but voted to deny the request to demolish the two houses, which commissioners found to be contributing to the Old Fourth Ward. While the HDC vote on the house at 420 Detroit St. was unanimously against demolition, the vote on the fire-damaged 322 E. Kingsley St. house was only 4-3 against demolition.

Background: Notices to Proceed

It seems impossible to reconcile Secretary of Interior standards for appropriate work in an historic district – one of which concerns “reversibility” of the work – with demolition of a building that the commission has determined to be a contributing resource.

However, another option to contemplate – a second “flavor” of permission – is that the HDC could issue a “notice to proceed.” The criteria for issuance of such a notice, from the city code, are as follows:

8:416. Notice to proceed.
(1) Work within a historic district shall be permitted through the issuance of a notice to proceed by the commission if any of the following conditions prevail and if the proposed work can be demonstrated by a finding of the commission to be necessary to substantially improve or correct any of the following conditions:
(a) The resource constitutes a hazard to the safety of the public or to the structure’s occupants.
(b) The resource is a deterrent to a major improvement program that will be of substantial benefit to the community and the applicant proposing the work has obtained all necessary planning and zoning approvals, financing, and environmental clearances.
(c) Retaining the resource will cause undue financial hardship to the owner when a governmental action, an act of God, or other events beyond the owner’s control created the hardship, and all feasible alternatives to eliminate the financial hardship, which may include offering the resource for sale at its fair market value or moving the resource to a vacant site within the historic district, have been attempted and exhausted by the owner.
(d) Retaining the resource is not in the interest of the majority of the community.

In the case of the recent request in the Old West Side for demolition, the Liberty Lofts developer argued that all of the criteria might apply, including (b). However, the commission – in consultation with the city attorney’s office – seemed ultimately to reject (b) as a possibility, citing the fact that the developer had no “planning and zoning approvals, financing, and environmental clearances” as required by (b).

And when Zingerman’s went before the HDC in June 2008, they also did not have planning commission or city council approval for the project.

With their current plan to obtain permissions from the planning commission and the city council first, before returning to the HDC, Zingerman’s would be in a position to make a case for alteration of contributing structures, based on criterion (b).

At the earlier public hearing in June 2008, Peter Pollack, a landscape architect who also lives near Zingerman’s Deli, laid out the case based on exactly that criterion. From the summary of Pollack’s remarks in the HDC minutes of that meeting:

[...] I ask you to put in context with the historic development of what has occurred on this property. Buildings have been  relocated, reoriented and adjusted. This is in the same spirit of that reorientation and adjustment. If you look at the “Notice to Proceed,’ this is a major deterrent to an  improvement program, and I say that this is exactly the case.

Background: Zoning

The Zingerman’s project that will be brought before the planning commission – probably in May – will be intended to meet all applicable zoning codes. That will make it a so-called “matter of right” project. That is possible due in part to a rezoning of the 322 E. Kingsley St. parcel, which took place last summer as part of the Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown (A2D2) rezoning project for all of downtown.

The previous zoning for 322 E. Kingsley St. was R4C, which is designated for residential, not commercial use. The new D2 zoning classification allows for various commercial uses, including restaurants and offices.

The rezoning of 322 Kingsley St. was given preliminary approval by the city council in April 2009 as part of a comprehensive rezoning of downtown Ann Arbor. That required review of the change by the planning commission, which ultimately approved it, in connection with its revision of the city’s downtown plan.

The 322 E. Kingsley St. rezoning was controversial for the planning commission, passing on a 4-3 vote. From The Chronicle’s report of the May 19, 2009 planning commission meeting, when the revision was approved.

During the public hearing, the  planning commission heard from several speakers who objected to the assignment of the D2 designation to the property, on the grounds of  “fairness” and “favoritism” – everyone loves Zingerman’s, themselves included, they said. But that didn’t translate into changing the zoning, just because Zingerman’s asked for it.

They also heard from representatives of Zingerman’s about why the D2 zoning was requested, as well as from a speaker who noted that he’d just witnessed two hours of “serious participation” by citizens who were engaged, and had been properly noticed, and concluded that the notion of fairness had not been violated.

The vote on the commission was 4-3 for following council’s lead in assigning D2 zoning to the parcel. Voting for the D2 designation were: Eric Mahler, Tony Derezinski, Jean Carlberg, and Wendy Woods. Voting against it were: Bonnie Bona, Kirk Westphal, and Ethel Potts. Mahler, responding to an argument made by Peter Pollack at the previous week’s work session, said that the option of pursuing a PUD for a particular project (as an alternative to having the D2 zoning) would, in his opinion, be difficult. For a PUD, Mahler said, a public benefit would have to be demonstrated – and from what he could tell, the kind of project Zingerman’s was contemplating would most likely be for Zingerman’s benefit.

Westphal did not cite “fairness” in voting against the D2 designation, but rather a respect for the long, extended process of community participation that had extended over a few years – none of which had included discussion of the 322 E. Kingsley parcel.

Background: Timeline Overview

  • June 12, 2008: Historic district commission denies request for demolition of 322 E. Kingsley St. and 420 Detroit St. [Rocco Disderide's former residence, aka "the orange house."]
  • Feb. 19, 2009: Planning commission adopts downtown plan with various revisions but no change to existing R4C zoning of 322 E. Kingsley St.
  • April 6, 2009: City council gives initial approval to zoning revisions to downtown requiring alterations to the downtown plan adopted by the planning commission; major alterations include changes in South University area, but also included a rezoning of 322 E. Kingsley St. from R4C to the new D2 classification. The amendment on 322 E. Kingsley St. is introduced by Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and passes with dissent only from Sabra Briere (Ward 1). [link]
  • May 19, 2009: Planning commission approves revisions to the downtown plan to accommodate part of the city council’s South University zoning revisions, an East Huron zoning revision, and the 322 E. Kingsley St. revision. [link]
  • June 15, 2009: City council adopts downtown plan as revised by the planning commission. [link]
  • Nov. 16, 2009: City council gives final approval to downtown zoning revisions, including the D2 designation to 322 E. Kingsley St.
  • Jan. 14, 2010: At an HDC work session, Zingerman’s presents plan showing demolition of two houses.
  • March 8, 2010: Zingerman’s holds a public participation open house on its proposed expansion.
  • March 11, 2010: At an HDC work session, Zingerman’s presents a plan showing demolition of one house only.

Zingerman’s Expansion: January 2010 HDC Work Session

The city’s historic district commission typically conducts its work sessions just after its regular meetings conclude – in the city council workroom, which adjoins the council chambers where the commission holds its regular meetings.

At the Jan. 14, 2010 HDC work session, Ken Clein of Quinn Evans Architects was joined by Gary Bruder, Zingerman’s legal counsel, and Nancy Rucker, who works in Zingerman’s Deli operations.

Clein presented the project with conceptual drawings and a study model – which at that time showed the removal of both the 322 E. Kingsley St. house and the 420 Detroit St. house.

Clein explained that the proposal to expand was related to an interest in preserving the original historic deli building. The current cooking and dishwashing operations in the building, he explained, generated moisture that escaped through the exterior brick, and caused deterioration of the wall. The evidence of the toll that it takes, he said, can be seen on the exterior of the wall facing Kingsley in the form of efflorescence – white salt deposits.

Clein also outlined a number of challenges associated with the Zingerman’s campus, one of them the seven-inch elevation change, which has an impact on what’s required to meet ADA accessibility standards, as well as the tight quarters, which has an impact on where stormwater detention can be undertaken.

The key issue for commissioners, naturally, was the question of removing both houses. Generally, commissioners did not seem wed to the idea of preserving the 322 E. Kingsley St. house.

[The June 2008 vote on that house had been close: 4-3 against demolition. One of the votes against demolition was Michael Bruner, who has since been replaced on the HDC with Patrick McCauley. McCauley's comments at the work session suggest he could be supportive of removing the 322 E. Kingsley St. house.]

On the 420 Detroit St. house, however, McCauley was unambiguous: “I’ll just come out and say it. I don’t think you should tear that house down.”

What McCauley pointed to was the fact that the proposed new building seemed to impinge on just one corner of the house, and for that reason, he did not think the condition was met that the removal of the house be “necessary.”

Clein countered by saying that there was more to it than just the small corner of the house. Among the specific issues he enumerated were: the impact on accessibility and the need to construct ramps; plus proximity of the house to the new structure triggering a requirement of fire-proof sheathing, which added to the expense; and the need to temporarily move the house to accommodate the actual construction of the new building.

Key for Clein was the idea that if cost were no object, then anything was possible – but it was a matter of how much cost was reasonable to ask of someone in order to rehabilitate an historic property.

On the question of expense, commissioner Diane Giannola wondered what the cut-off was for rehabilitation being “too expensive.” She allowed that it was “something to think about.” On the cost question, McCauley contended that it was only a small part of the overall project budget. Clein countered that in ballpark numbers, the rehabilitation of the house would likely be $0.5 million out of a project budget of $3.5 million to $4 million – or 1/7 of the budget, which he did not consider to be a small part of it.

Giannola raised the question of whether the 420 Detroit St. house could be seen from the street, to which McCauley responded: “You can totally see it from the street!” Giannola maintained that it was not a part of the streetscape, but noted that it was still a part of going to Zingerman’s Deli.

On the topic of location, Jill Thacher, the city planning department’s specialist in historic preservation, addressed the topic of the house’s history. It had been moved from the corner where the brick deli building now stands, she said, but that was during the district’s period of significance. This meant the fact that it had been moved was not an argument that it wasn’t a contributing structure. “Let me get the ‘it’s been moved’ argument off the table,” she said. [The same issue had been discussed fairly thoroughly at the HDC's June 2008 meeting.]

Commissioners discussed how far the notion of “necessity” in the criteria for a notice to proceed extended – was it “necessary” that Zingerman’s undertake the expansion at that location?

Commissioner Ellen Ramsburgh wondered if the expansion was more than the site could take. She noted that the Zingerman’s Creamery and Bake House had moved to peripheral locations. “Do you need to be there?”

In her remarks, Ramsburgh was echoing sentiments expressed by then-commissioner Michael Bruner back in June 2008, when he had made the suggestion that Zingerman’s think of moving their operations. The specific location he had in mind was the Old West Side structure adjoining the Liberty Lofts development:

Commissioner Bruner – [...] This may be less than what they need, but there stands today, a project that we reviewed and was approved, a development that includes a 20,000 square foot commercial retail area with parking that is begging to be occupied. [An apparent allusion to the Liberty Lofts greenhouse building.] As preservationists that want to encourage the success of economic projects in the city, perhaps Zingerman’s should consider moving their location as they have with their Creamery, which is at a satellite location, their Bakery which is at a satellite location, their Roadhouse that is a satellite location – this could be relocated as a satellite component at another location, nevertheless retaining this location as it is.

Clein responded to Ramsburgh at the January 2010 HDC working session by wondering if there were another historic district in another town where Zingerman’s could contemplate locating their operations. Ramsburgh: “That’s a threat!”

Zingerman’s Expansion: March Public Meeting, HDC Work Session

At the open house event held on March 8 to introduce the new project to the public, a key difference in the plan was apparent, made since the January HDC work session: The 420 Detroit St. house – “the orange house” –  is now incorporated into the design, both in the drawings and the study model.

Historic District Commission Ann Arbor Working Session

HDC work session, March 11, 2010. From the far end of the table, at right, going clockwise: Paul Saginaw, Lori Saginaw, Lesa Rozmarek, Kristina Glusac, Diane Giannola, Ellen Ramsburgh, Nancy Rucker, Gary Bruder, Bill Kinley, Deb Cooper, Ken Clein, Jill Thacher, Patrick McCauley, Rick Strutz, Grace Singleton.

At the open house, Ray Detter, president of the city’s downtown citizen’s advisory council, responded to a mention that the plan now included “the orange house” with the clarification: “You mean the Disderide house?”

Rocco Disderide was the proprietor of a grocery in the brick deli building, who moved the house from the corner to make way for that building.

Detter had told the board of the Downtown Development Authority at their last meeting, on March 3, 2010, that the advisory council was concerned about Zingerman’s plan to expand:

Zingerman’s plan generated “heated discussion” at DCAC, said Detter. The deli is located in the Old Fourth Ward historic district. He said they agreed that Zingerman’s is an essential part of the community, but that they needed to make sure there’s not a precedent set that would undermine planning. The decision needed to be oriented around the city’s planning documents: the downtown plan, the central area plan, and the historic district.

At the March 11, 2010 HDC work session, Ken Clein mentioned that some of the attendees of their March 8 open house were puzzled as to why they were keeping the 420 Detroit St. house as a part of the design.

As a designer and an architect, Clein said, he did have some concern for the judgment of history – would people look back 50 or 100 years from now and wonder why that house was incorporated into the design? “Will they look back and say, ‘What the …? Stupid preservationists!’” Patrick McCauley joked in response: “They’re going to say that anyway!”

Paul Saginaw Zingerman's

At the March 8 open house, Paul Saginaw, a founding partner of Zingerman’s, is not explaining how he fought his way through the curds, swimming to the surface after falling into a vat of cheese. He’s explaining to a neighbor how the Zingerman’s project is going to look.

The question of how much the preservation of the 420 Detroit St. house would cost arose again, just as it had at the January work session. In the interim, some more concrete numbers had been attached to the cost of rehabilitating the house for integration into the design. The house is shown in the design to be attached to the building at the rear via a glass connector.

Bill Kinley, who owns Phoenix Contractors Inc., was at the work session on Zingerman’s behalf to provide comment on some of the construction costs. McCauley was skeptical of the costs shown for electrical upgrades to the structure, citing some familiarity with the cost of a complete electrical replacement of a house. Kinley pointed out that there’s a rule of thumb for residential rewiring of $30-$35 per opening (switch plate or plug) versus a $120-$140 rule of thumb for work to bring things up to commercial code.

The code requirements that the 420 Detroit St. house would need to meet are commercial standards.

Clein reported that the kind of work that would be necessary, and which Zingerman’s had now had estimated in more detail, included a rebuild of the foundation, new floor framing for the first floor, new joist hangers for the second floor and the addition of exterior sheathing. [The house is built with the balloon-frame construction technique.]

The additional cost of the project attributable to the rehabilitation of the 420 Detroit St. house would be between $600,000-$750,000. In terms of cost per square foot, Clein said, it came out to $572/sq. ft.  By comparison, the new construction cost of a laboratory building at the University of Michigan – the Biomedical Sciences Research Building – was $100/sq. ft. less, at $480/sq. ft., Clein said. Kinley added that the new construction of a recent project that Phoenix had completed – the Towsley Children’s Center at Forest & Willard – came in at only $300/sq. ft.

Commissioners pointed to the importance of retaining the spatial relationships between the 420 Detroit St. house and the other buildings in the compound. At their regular meeting just before the work session, they’d turned down a request to add a second story to a 1-story garage, partly on the basis of those spatial relationships.

Picking up on this need to preserve the spatial relationships, Kinley suggested that they could simply rebuild the 420 Detroit St. house anew and replace it with new construction that would have the same shape and massing of the old house. Clein pointed out to the commissioners that with all of the work that would be required on the house to bring it up to code, there would likely be little of the original “fabric” of the house remaining.

Commissioners seemed cool to the implicit pitch that the Zingerman’s team was making to go back to a scenario where both houses would be demolished. Said Jill Thacher: “We’ve been over that. I want to keep you from going back to that.”

Commissioners also took care to stress that they were really happy with the proposal that removed the 322 E. Kingsley St. house but integrated the 420 Detroit St. house into the design, characterizing it as a good compromise. “I really like this,” said McCauley, allowing that he had been “the most strident person about the preservation of the orange house.”

On the fact that Zingerman’s had taken their feedback and incorporated it into their new proposal, McCauley summed it the contrast between the HDC’s experience with some applicants: “This is much preferable to getting yelled at.”

The current schedule calls for the proposal to come before the city’s planning commission in May. In the meantime, the Zingerman’s team will meet with the city’s building inspector on code issues related to the 420 Detroit St. house.


A rough study model of the area as it currently stands. The view is from the north. Detroit Street runs from front to back. Kingsley runs left and right. The Zingerman’s Deli brick building is on the corner of Detroit and Kingsley.

Zingerman's study model

A study model of the Zingerman’s expansion viewed from Detroit Street, looking east. The finger is pointing at the screening for mechanicals on the roof of the proposed new building.

Zingerman's Deli

The Zingerman’s Deli building viewed from Detroit Street. The 420 Detroit St. property is the orange house to the right of the brick deli building.


Nancy Rucker and Gary Bruder with the Zingerman’s team at the January 2010 HDC working session.

Looking at Zingerman's study model

City planner Jill Thacher and Rick Strutz, a partner in Zingerman’s Deli, inspect the current study model at the March 11 HDC work session. In the backround is Grace Singleton, another Zingerman’s Deli partner.

Zingermans brick

Efflorescence on the spawled brick of the Zingerman’s Deli building on the wall facing Kingsley Street.

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Can I Have a Peace of Your Sandwich? Sat, 18 Apr 2009 00:39:01 +0000 Dave Askins Governor Granholm with  Peace Neighborhood director and student.

The fundraiser drew visitors from across the region, including the woman in this photograph, who said she drove down from Lansing. Terry Jackson, foreground, is a member of the Peace Neighborhood Center drum corps, which was on hand to perform. At right is Bonnie Billups, Jr., executive director of the center.

When former University of Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr arrived Thursday evening at the Zingerman’s Raucus Caucus fundraiser to benefit the Peace Neighborhood Center, he had no linemen blocking for him.

So Michael Hedin – whose Townie’s Two Step team was competing in the fundraiser’s sandwich design contest – wheeled around from his conversation with us to pitch to Carr the virtues of his team’s two-meat sandwich. The coach was there to help judge the sandwich design contest at the heart of the fundraiser – and he was wise to Hedin’s angle: “Yeah, I always used to talk to the officials before the game, too!”

A few minutes later, Gov. Jennifer Granholm delivered remarks that kicked off the event, which raised around $18,000 for the neighborhood center, according to Rick Strutz, a managing partner of Zingerman’s Deli.   Located on Maple Road near Miller Avenue, Peace Neighborhood offers after-school programming and tutoring for elementary and middle school students. 

Peace Neighborhood Center

Bonnie Billups, Jr., executive director of the center, was on hand at the sandwich contest, along with director of development Kevin Lill and program director Paul Johnson, as well as several officers on the Peace Neighborhood board. Johnson said that the center was facing the same tough economic climate as every other nonprofit and for them it meant that they were using more interns from the UM School of Social Work. It also meant that he and Billups were pitching in by helping to drive the van and the bus used to shuttle students to and from the center. Billups has a commercial driver’s license endorsement, while Johnson has a chauffeur’s license.

Guy standing next to Coach Lloyd Carr holding a football.

Darin Latimer, front of the house deli manager at Zingerman's, holding a batch of yellow ballots. At right is coach Lloyd Carr.

Johnson said that he’d voted for the sandwich that actually won after all the votes at the Raucus Caucus were tallied: Number Five – “Peace of Mind.” The creation came from a team that included two sisters, Kathy and Amy Sample, and specified layers of pepper bacon, avocado, EZ mayo, tomato, mixed greens on toasted Bakehouse White bread. Johnson allowed that his vote might not have been based purely on taste. It could have been influenced by sandwich’s nod to the name of the neighborhood center

Party-zone Voting?

Unlike Johnson, Tom Wieder (a local attorney, who with his wife, Sue Schooner, support the Peace Neighborhood Center) said he’d made his choice for sandwich Number Five based purely on taste – which he said he’d not expected, based on the ingredient descriptions. He had figured to like the pastrami (Hedin’s “Townie’s Two Step”) best. In any case, he declared that his was “an honest vote.”

Still, the “Townie’s Two Step” found its advocates among the voters, even if it did not tally enough votes to win. Among them was former UM and NBA basketball player Jimmy King, who told us he’s now running a solar energy company in addition to working as a broadcast analyst for basketball games. He said he had a collection of mentors who gave him notes on his commentary. For example, they point out places where his timing is off. “Don’t step on your partner when he’s trying to talk,”  is the kind of feedback they give. He said he liked the “Townie’s Two Step” but that it was close between a couple of other entries. What made the difference, he said, was the team’s enthusiasm.

The team’s enthusiasm also captured the attention of Rick Strutz, who awarded them the Sandwich of the Month item he’d successfully bid for in the auction part of the fundraiser.

Guy in denim jean jacket standing next to another guy holding a cup

Chuck Anderson and Al Newman.

D.J. (Doylan Jackson), a special ed teacher at Stone School, also voted for the “Townie’s Two Step” even though he had a specific suggestion for improving it: Add peppered bacon. That would give the sandwich a total of three meats. D.J. said he enjoys cooking – and frequently prepares meals for Jimmy King when he drops by for a visit.

Bob Guenzel attended the festive fundraiser as well, and we pressed him for details on how he voted – even though his position as administrator of Washtenaw County is non-party-zone in nature, and the query probably put him in an awkward spot. But you can mark Guenzel down in the column for Number Three, “Newman’s ‘Where’s #90′?”

The Rundown of the Event’s Origins

Who’s the Newman in the Number Three sandwich’s name? That’d be Al Newman. This year’s Raucus Caucus marked the second year the fundraiser has been held – inspired by Newman’s quest to sample every sandwich Zingerman’s Deli makes to determine the very best one.   Newman was previously president of the Peace Neighborhood Center’s board. Said Rick Strutz, a managing partner of Zingerman’s Deli, as the event on Thursday evening was winding down, “This never would have happened without Al.”

Newman himself said he didn’t care about winning or losing the contest – the point was to raise money for the neighborhood center.  Other teams, though, campaigned for their sandwiches as hard as any politician running for office.

The event has a connection to literal running as well, at least in terms of some of the social connections amongst attendees. Earlier in the day, The Chronicle had been out at Bandemer Park to shoot photos of the rowing teams, when two guys – one of whom looked like Jim Kosteva, UM community relations director – came running past on the park path, which leads along the Huron River. We weren’t sure it was Kosteva, but when he appeared at the fundraiser, it was a chance to confirm: Yep, it was him, he said. It turns out there’s a group that often runs together, starting out from the YMCA on Ann Arbor’s Old West Side. It often includes Newman and Ken Nieman, associate director of the Ann Arbor District Library, who was also at the fundraiser.

Woman holding a sign that says Take another little piece of my peace of mind baby

Amy Sample holds a "campaign sign" for the "Peace of Mind" sandwich, which won the most votes from attendees of the caucus.

Two people in T-shirts that say make me a townie

Michael Hedin and Marianne Brett. Having moved to Ann Arbor for school, the couple is now here for the long haul as homeowners – otherwise put, they're townies.

Outline of a T-shirt that lists sandwich names

Design of the commemorative T-shirt for the event listing the names of all the candidate sandwiches.

Aerial view of sandiches on a tray

Olivia was one of the Zingerman's servers who brought out samples of the candidate sandwiches.

football signed by Lloyd Carr

Football signed by Lloyd Carr.

Lloyd Carr with his mouth open

Coach Carr was ready for sandwiches of any size.

Woman standing next to Lloyd Carr getting a football signed for her boyfriend.

Lloyd Carr signs a football for a member of the "Townie's Two Step" team.

Governor Jennifer Granholm and Lloyd Carr

Gov. Jennifer Granholm chats with Lloyd Carr before the event started.

Governor Jennifer Granholm

Gov. Jennifer Granholm gave the opening remarks. She declared all the candidates to be winners.

Governor Jennifer Granholm

Gov. Jennifer Granholm said the sandwiches nourish our bodies, but the Peace Neighborhood Center nourishes the community.

Governor Jennifer Granholm

We were unable to determine if Gov. Jennifer Granholm was showing the crowd what Michigan would look like if everything north of Lansing disappeared, or if she was just trying to hitchhike home.

Guy in green shirt with guitar and several pedals

Dabenport was on hand to provide musical nourishment. We believe this is Vince Swain.

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Shhhhh…Zingerman’s Has a Secret Mon, 16 Mar 2009 17:30:07 +0000 Mary Morgan brad

Brad Hedeman, who handles marketing and purchasing for Zingerman's Mail Order, in their temporary retail store (the front entry for the warehouse).

According to Mo Frechette, they miss seeing customers out there in warehouse land. Toni Morell says they’re bored during off season. There’s also some inventory they’d like to move at discounted prices, Frechette says, so “why not do it as a hush-hush locals-only thing?”

The Chronicle suspects that Zingerman’s fans won’t really care why the managing partners of Zingerman’s Mail Order decided to open a super low-key discount retail store – they’ll just care about the when, where and what.

So here’s the deal: Every Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., starting last Friday and running for 21 weeks, the warehouse at 610 Phoenix Drive will be selling 21 types of items at deep discounts – including some things priced at $21 – to anyone who happens to stop by. The stock will be different each week, though there’ll likely be some overlap, too – you can sign up to get weekly emails alerting you to what’s on offer.

When we stopped by on March 13, the venture’s kickoff day, we watched a steady stream of people drop in – mostly from the surrounding industrial park, which includes the Borders Group headquarters and the Ann Arbor Learning Community, a charter school. Frechette said they’d told some of the surrounding businesses about it – plus there’s a sign at the entrance to their driveway – but otherwise, only some “leakage” about the store on Facebook and the blogosphere. Yet word is getting out.

The “store” is really just a fairly small entryway that otherwise contains, well, nothing. They’ve put in a desk for someone to act as cashier, a few shelves, and a curtain made from burlap coffee bags stitched together to cover the entry into the cavernous warehouse – the bags carried beans imported by Zingerman’s Coffee Co., which does its roasting in a portion of the warehouse. And it smells just that good.

This is about the only indication you'll find that Zingermans Mail Order is having a warehouse sale on Fridays.

This is about the only indication you'll find that Zingerman's Mail Order is having a warehouse sale on Fridays. The white building in the background is the headquarters for Borders Group.

While we were there, Brad Hedeman kindly took the time to give us a tour of the operation, aside from the store. He handles marketing and purchasing for the mail order business, and explained why they were looking for something more to do this time of year.

The business is intensely seasonal. Of their $8 million in annual sales, half of that comes during the six weeks around the holidays. And half of that $4 million comes during the week before Christmas.

Employment reflects that seasonal arc as well. Though the mail order business employs about 50 people now, including part-timers, during the holiday crush that number shoots up to between 350 to 400 people.

But on Friday, the warehouse was quiet. The long yellow conveyor belt used during peak times was silent, and the phones weren’t ringing during the short time we chatted with the staff there waiting to take orders – though about 60% of orders now come in via their website.

Booty Bin

Sorry, but the Booty Bin at Zingerman's Mail Order warehouse is just for employees.

We met Luna, a friendly pup camped out in the office area, and walked by the Booty Bin – shelves stocked with products that are steeply discounted for employees.

In a way, the temporary retail store is like a Booty Bin for the public: You don’t know exactly what might show up there, but chances are you’ll find something you like and can afford, or at least covet.

Last Friday, the store’s offerings included Mattei Biscotti, Olive Oil Torta, Ravida Sicilian Sea Salt, La Cassetta Vinegar, 1-year Grafton cheese, pickled raisins, Apple Mostarda, Taza Chocolate and 13 other items, many priced at more than half off their original cost. They’d also put together a box – one of everything – for $210, keeping with the 21 theme. And there were samples out of several products.

Toni Morell said she’s looking forward to warmer weather, when they can spill outside and add things like a lemonade stand. Plus, it’ll be warm – the warehouse is chilly, and the knit hats worn by Frechette and Hedeman, though undoubtedly stylish, were functional as well.

We never truly got a definitive answer to “why 21?” The timing means the store will stay open on Fridays through July, with August being a heavy vacation time before ramping up for the start of the seasonal push in September.

Or, as Mo Frechette said, it’s like blackjack, “where everyone wins” – and we’ll just leave it at that.

Mo Frechette, managing partner at Zingermans Mail Order.

Mo Frechette, managing partner at Zingerman's Mail Order.

Jackie Evers and Betty Graytopp

Jackie Evers and Betty Graytopp.

Brad Hedeman talks with a customer at the Zingermans Mail Order temporary retail store.

Brad Hedeman talks with a customer at the Zingerman's Mail Order retail store, which will be open on Fridays through July.

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