an affordable zingerman’s mobile organic bodega in ypsilanti?

I just happened across the following clip on the Plenty Magazine website. It comes at the end of a short article on sustainable business which focuses on Ann Arbor’s famous Zingerman’s upscale food empire.

…Ari and Paul (the owners of Zingerman’s), as you can imagine, are always bubbling with ideas. Paul now spends about half of his time making waves in the nonprofit world, both in Ann Arbor and on a national level. He really wants to see good food go to people who can’t afford Zingerman’s regular fare and is trying to set up affordable, mobile organic bodegas (my words, not his) in the food deserts of Ypsilanti and Detroit.

An affordable Zingerman’s mobile organic bodega in Ypsi?! Has anyone else heard about this? I wish I knew about this a few weeks ago, during the Shadow Art Fair, when Paul was buying stuff from our Crimewave table. I would have asked him for details… I don’t suspect he reads this site, but I must have at least one or two readers that know him. If you happen to be one of those people, could you please mention to him that I’d like to know more about their plans? I think it’s an absolutely brilliant idea, and I’d love to play a part in getting it launched if there’s anything I can help with… And, I’d be interested even if there wasn’t an Ypsi connection. If they’ve found a business model that will allow them to sell organic, high quality food at competitive prices in economically depressed areas, and still pay their people well, I want to hear about it.

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33 Comments

  1. Robert II
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    I love the idea, but I wonder if it would hurt either Dos Hermanos or the Co-op.

  2. degutails
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    i don’t think it would be fruitful to not bring in an established business just because it might hurt others, especially a business that employs many local folks. i’m a big believer in competition, and besides, my family’s appetite can definitely include zingerman’s and the co-op, and dos hermanos besides.

    ypsi needs to embrace incoming businesses and grow, in my opinion. there’s room for lots more.

    meredith

  3. egpenet
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    I’m with you degutails.

    The zingerman’s formula, anyway, is to provide unique items geared to the local market, but with an unkick.

    There most likely wouldn’t be anything they sell you could get anywhere else in town.

    I urge everyone to go into Dos Hermanos … aside from soda pop and the usual American breakfast staples and canned goods, they are really uniquely south of the border. Even their meat cuts are unique.

    If Zingerman’s can locate downtown, it would enhance the walkability for central neighborhoods and provide a middle to upper middle class array of delectibles that might even bring back Connie Crump!

    I know several Crumpettes who consistently moan about the mediocre foods and pasteries available in town. Zingermans currently services one or two restaurant desert menus, but aside from special order cakes and tortes at our two local bakeries, what passes for scones, cakes or cookies at our local coffee shops and restaurants … well, the word “stale” comes to mind.

    Add to the sweets, the availability of great cheeses, breads from Ari’s Bake Shop, plus the deli selections … and I’m beginning to calculate how much more I can buy if I don’t have to make a roundtrip in my car to Kerrytown.

    I DO hope that Ari does his homework and realizes the large minority population (Black Americans, Africans, Orientals, Middle Easterners, Hispanics) in Ypsi, plus the seniors downtown. While both are price conscious, they have needs, tastes and desires that differ from the college crowd and yuppies.

    This should be fun to see … god willin’ and the crik don’t rise! (As we say)

  4. Posted December 14, 2007 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Ed,

    I think Queen of Hearts in Depot Town is a great bakery with wonderful treats and coffee and Terry’s bakery in the downtown has awesome cinnamon rolls that are never stale.

    Robert II,

    The ‘hurt other business’ is a fallacy. Home Depot and Lowes locate near each other because there is plenty of business. Yes you can oversaturation in a market, by Ypsi and for that matter Michigan is not there.

    This was the crying shame over Water Street when retail was removed from the project. The justification was the City didn’t want to hurt downtown business. By having additional traffic in the downtown, new retail in new space will encourage others to tackle the older buildings that need more work and time.

    Don’t fear new businesses coming to the community, a rising tide raises all boats.

    Cheers!

    – Steve

  5. Flossy
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    If you don’t think that Home Depot and Lowes cut into the business of Cogdons hardware store, you must be high.

    I’m all for Zingerman’s coming to town. I think there’s plenty of room for another grocery. I don’t want for that grocery to be inside a Super Walmart though. That rising tide does NOT raise all boats. That rising tide washes existing businesses away and brings down the local pay rate.

  6. egpenet
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Without naming names, I was specifically citing the specialty cakes and tortes by those two bakeries.

    Where we go for coffee in the morning and on weekends, however, the selections are meager and often a day or two old.

    I also like the artisanal breads at the Co-op, especially the sourdough rounds.

  7. egpenet
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    I also agree that the more activity there is the better it is. “All boats …” as Steve says.

    So-called” new construction in Water Streeet or anywhere else in the downtown will HELP retail everywhere else in the city. I have had three comversations this week getting second-hand information that business people (from Wyandotte, Mt. Clemens, Aurburn Hills) were in town and looking hard at Ypsilanti.

    The second-hand feedback is that the oldtimers who bought cheap and are hanging on to their old buildings for high prices are being “stubborn” and the money is walking away looking for a better deal.

    The “better deal” is Water Street, where the cost of new construction will be less and getting a business up and running will make economic sense.

    Which is what Steve said in other ways (above). With Water Street and other new developments going … the center city will follow. I think that’s right.

    And the first shoe to drop … although I HATE to admit it … is the new Walgreen’s on Prospect. Figuratively (and literally), it may be all downhill from there. We shall see.

  8. Posted December 14, 2007 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Flossy,

    I think the better analogy would be that the Sidetrack doesn’t have to worry too much if Burger King wants to open a store on River Street.

    My family has successfully run a bookstore in New Mexico for over 30 years. They have always welcomed, many times greeting the new owners during their opening. When a new bookstore opened up in town, it meant more books and more readers. He has seen two big box chains come and go in 30 years and well over 100 independent stores come and go in that same time.

    Those business’ that are weak will always worry about competition and will try to convince the government to put up protectionist laws to shield them from competition.

    Those business that can adapt to change, will always be successful. Not one restaurant worries about a new restaurant opening up downtown. They all know that the new restaurant will bring new people and there will be new opportunities.

    I look forward to Ari and any other business that wants to open in Ypsilanti.

    Cheers!

    – Steve

  9. egpenet
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Aside from the big stuff, local tradespeople stream daily into Condon’s and Sherwin-Williams. Lots of local folks, too.

    If you want to see how other “small town” Ace hardwares are doing … check out the Ace in Plymouth Mall near Nixon in A2, or Barne’s Ace Hardware’s new store on Stadium S. of Jackson, or go to Dexter, right on Main Street. Ace stores compete very well for local business with focused inventories and personal service. They know my name at every one of those places.

  10. egpenet
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    By the by … a bodega is a winery, wine store, wine and/or liquor warehouse. A bodeguita in Latin America is a general store. (Wikipedia)

  11. DanIzzo
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    While I welcome any expansion of business into Ypsi, and would love cheaper versions of Zingerman’s tasty treats, is Ypsi really a food desert?

    One of my students has researched this pretty extensively on Detroit, and Detroit is in the food desert category, particularly on the organic front, but Ypsi? Besides Dos Hermanos and the Co-Op, you’ve got two farmers markets, the Kroger on the otherside of 94, the Meijer on Carpenter Road, the Kroger on Carpenter road (technically in A2, but the other side of the street is Ypsi, unless I’m mistaken). The big chains carry a decent selection of organics (Kroger has 2 brands of organic milk).

    I’m not trying to undermine the idea, again, I think it’s great. I just don’t think things in Ypsi are that dire.

  12. egpenet
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Aside from Dos Hermanos, the Co-op, the Farmers Market (2x a week) and a few corner party stores (who do not offer organics) … there is no quality “middle to upper middle” WALKABLE store.

    Von’s is close, but not THAT close. Von’s and the others you mention must be accessed by car. I LOVE the experience of going to Zingerman’s in Kerrytown. But, while I LIKE the offerings and the sales at Hiller’s, and I like the Deli at Whole Foods, and I DO shop a Meijer’s and Gordon’s … I want something I can walk to or bike to HERE in town. Why not?

    I HATE driving to A2 for stuff!

    I buy pet stuff in A2 ONLY when Mantis is out. I buy bulk items at Sam’s Club and that’s it. And even THEN, I’d give up the bulk stuff if the walkable markets here were more competitive on basics like toilet paper, paper towels, milk, good bread, etc.

    The savings in travel and gas are enough to bind me to a walkable location … PROVIDED it was quality (fresh, tasty, local) organic or not.

  13. Ol' E Cross
    Posted December 15, 2007 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    I will forever remember Zingerman’s a the first somewhat upscale place I was treated like a real customer in someplace kinda fancy. (I’m still terrified of wineries since I’m sure they’ll smell my lack-of-income when I walk through the door.) I was in college and taking the Detroiter’s exotic escapade to A2, my second trip there, the first in daylight. I was in line with a couple typically ragged friends and my future wife. We were helping ourselves to the sample breads and oils when a staff approached. We all expected to be kicked out. Instead, they opened a fresh bottle of pricey oil for us to try. I know it was good business on their part, what will all the ragged, future millionaires at UM, but it made a lasting impression.

    I still can’t afford that oil but would probably slop it up if it were dumped in Ypsi markets. Made me think I could live on bread and oil, if it weren’t for the price of bread and oil…

  14. Posted December 15, 2007 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    One time in high school I took a girl to Zingerman’s on a date. We were going to pick up the food and then go on a picnic in Gallop Park. I didn’t realize how much a sandwich was – like almost ten bucks. I was working once a week at Mark’s Midtown Coney Island as a fry cook, and my weeky paycheck was about $32, of which about $20 went towards putting gas in my 1983 Mercury Marquis, which got about 6 miles to the gallon. So I didn’t realize that my $12 I had left wouldn’t cover two Zingerman’s sandwiches. But I stood there like a chump with this girl I liked and ordered anyway, and 5-10 minutes later they brought out the giant sandwiches in a bag and said, “here you go!”, and walked away. We hadn’t paid, and they hadn’t realized. I didn’t know what to do. We looked at each other and then just left with our free Zingerman’s sandwiches, and enjoyed the best meal ever on the goose poop filled banks of the Huron river. I think I even got a kiss at the end. So, thank you Zingermans. I still owe you, and I promise I’ll pay you back someday. Or maybe, just maybe, it was meant to be free to us that day.

  15. egpenet
    Posted December 15, 2007 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    OEC: What a great sense of humor you have!

    CV: You have been blessed by Ari. Enjoy! You make someone a sandwich someday. Pass it on. Keep the good karma rolling.

    Great stories …

  16. Posted December 15, 2007 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    DanIzzo – The Ypsilanti Healthy Food Access Initiative (Washtenaw County Public Health, Growing Hope, Hope Clinic, MSU Extension, and several other partners) did some extensive survey work and interviewing about a year ago; here’s an article in Critical Moment with some of their findings.

    Generally, they found that access to healthy food in Ypsi’s south side neighborhoods is fairly poor. In no small part, this has to do with access to automobiles – or, rather, lack of, which makes the various Krogers and Meijers that you name difficult to get to / get groceries back from.

    The downtown farmers’ market was one result of / a related project to that assessment, as a way of improving access to healthful foods. The Initiative was also looking at recruiting some food retailer to downtown or the south side – I believe they were actually discussing the Dos Hermanos space with Abe before he found them as a tenant.

    So, certainly, Dos Hermanos and the farmers’ market improve things a lot. I patronize both of them weekly at least (seasonally, for the market). But I still wouldn’t say that needs – mine or the communities – are completely met.

    (Incidentally, at a holiday potluck, I and another person brought essentially the same vegetable-based item. I sourced 100% of my ingredients from Dos Hermanos and the co-op, and spent approximately $9. His came from Kroger, for $30. So Ypsi’s certainly not hopeless. Granted, mine took a little more manual labor, but I find chopping vegetables pretty relaxing/satisfying.)

  17. Posted December 16, 2007 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    There are probably some that live outside of the City that think Ypsilanti is a desert in so many ways.

    Remember my story I posted earlier when I was asked by someone from Ann Arbor when they learned I bought a home in Ypsilanti, they asked, “Couldn’t you find a better Realtor?”

    I have hosted a number of parties over the years and more than once I have been asked if it was safe to park the car near the house. I have had others that simply said they wouldn’t come because they didn’t feel safe at night.

    But then just in the past week in my neighborhood there have been at least three car break ins, a kidnapping at a gas station, a store owner that was stabbed in the face, another person was assaulted on a street corner. So may those out-of-towners are the sane folks, we are the crazy ones for living here. [grin]

    Cheers!

    – Steve

  18. John on Forest
    Posted December 16, 2007 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    The image of Ypsilanti as crime ridden is something I’ve come across many times too. It’s really a shame too, because I don’t perceive it that way. Maybe we should ask Matt Harshberger to compile some statistics on it. When I look at the crime map in the Ann Arbor News I never see a larger density of crime depicted on it than I see in Ann Arbor. Nor do I see a different kind of crime (more violent, for example) from one geography to another.

    I’m 100% for any business, like Zingermans, that wants to come to Ypsilanti and thrive. Competition is good for everyone. Even better for everyone is synergism. The example of Home Depot right next to Lowes (or vise versa) is a perfect one. Everyone will probably notice too, that where there’s a McDonalds, there’s a Wendys or Burger King or Taco Bell nearby – usually all of them. No one wants to shop or eat at the same place day after day. Variety is as good as fair competition. That the Co-op would be usurped by a Zingermans seems unlikely to me.

    Steve, is it true that Water Street planners didn’t want retail as part of that project??? I had read in the paper that a mix of retail and residential was the whole idea behind it.

    Even if Water Street became a thriving retail center in the city, it would not have to become a detraction from other centers of retail in the city (e.g. Michigan Ave, Depot Town, and Cross Street). The city should look at a wholistic plan for the city, where a Water Street development would synergize with Depot Town, et al. I proposed this in another post on MM.com, where I suggested shuttle transportation between various points in Ypsilanti, using the parking shuttle type system used in many amusment parks.

    I’m not sure of the size of the Water Street property, but I think it would be perhaps 3 blocks by 3 blocks if laid out in a grid – maybe more, or maybe less. I can envision that as having store fronts on both sides of two or thee streets, three blocks long. Thats a LOT of retail business folks. And yes some of it should be big box; but NOT in Walmart-like sprawling one-story buildings. Of course there needs to be a balance with new residential space with such a development: Condos on the upper stories of these new buildings and perhaps lining the outside of Water Street.

  19. John on Forest
    Posted December 16, 2007 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    http://www.thegreene.com/thegreenedirectorymap.cfm

    Here is a link to a development in Dayton Ohio, called “The Green”. Although I can’t find any photos that show it justice, this map represents it very well. The development is only a year or two old. The buildings architecture would fit very well into downtown Ypsi or Depot Town. The development includes ample parking. Why couldn’t Water Street be like this??

  20. egpenet
    Posted December 16, 2007 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Men are such poor observers …

    Next time you’re in Kerrytown, for instance, check out the number of food outlets in close proximity … Zingerman’s store, Zingerman’;s Deli, Farmer’s Market, Monohan’s Fish Market, the Meat Market, several specialty food places, lots of restaurants/bars … and 1/2 block away, People’s Food Co-Op and more places to eat.

    I want that kind of density, variety and high quality HERE in Ypsilanti!

  21. KT
    Posted December 17, 2007 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been told it’s actually a Zingerman’s hot air balloon. It will stop in different places every day. People will need to chase it waving their dollars. When the crowd gets large enough, the balloon will land and sandwiches will be sold. Then, without warning, it will shoot back up into the sky before any of these local criminals can try to take the money.

  22. brokenmelody
    Posted December 19, 2007 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    KT, thanks for the best laugh I’ve had in weeks.

  23. mark
    Posted December 20, 2007 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    I hear the balloon idea is dead. The plan now is to run pneumatic tubes through the sewer lines. You’ll just shoot your money off to Ann Arbor through a Zingerman’s kiosk, and they’ll shoot you back a sandwich.

  24. Paul
    Posted January 4, 2008 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Hello,
    I was the person who started “Oasis Cafe” on Washington Street and currently work for Zingerman’s. I am one of the folks looking at the possibility of an affordable restaurant/market in Ypsilanti, preferably downtown. We are still in the planning stages but no balloons or tubes are planned.
    Cute idea though.

  25. Posted January 4, 2008 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Hi Paul!!! I used to work in the lawyer’s office near the Oasis — you used to trade us coffee & scones for legal advice. Boy, I miss Nicola’s scones. The best that could be had anywhere and better than Zingerman’s for sure. Wonder whatever happened to her …? For awhile I would find her scones at the YFC, then sometimes I saw her selling them at the AA Farmer’s Market. I heard she was going to start a patisserie in Detroit on Jefferson. Wish I could locate her, because her ginger scones were the best I ever had.

  26. Paul
    Posted January 5, 2008 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Hi Lisele,

    I don’t know what happened to her, however when we do this I am looking her up for sure. She bought a house in Detroit with the goal of her own place. I will call the number I have for her and see what’s up.

    Our goal is to benefit and support Ypsi’s economy so “our own” scones would not be entirely out of the question. I do plan on using Zing bake products as long as we can keep it affordable.

  27. Ypsitucky
    Posted January 5, 2008 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Let’s home we can keep those guys in their own neighborhoods. At least atm they are preying on their own.

    All other peoples’ fault, of course.

  28. mark
    Posted January 5, 2008 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Paul, thank you for the background. It’s very much appreciated. It’s good to know that they have someone like you, with local experience, involved in the initiative. If I can be of any help, just let me know. I look forward to hearing of your progress. Happy new year.

  29. John on Forest
    Posted January 5, 2008 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    We went to Dos Hermanos today for the first time and found some good bargains there. We will go back the next time we need ingredients for Mexican dishes.

    All the pre-packaged items that I looked at were Made in USA and I was glad to see that. The pre-packaged items also had printing in both English and Spanish.

    However, all the unpackaged produce was labeled only in Spanish. Where individual signs were put up for each item, it was still possible to tell what the price of an item was. But a couple tables just had a listing of items on one placard, all in Spanish. I couldn’t tell if a price was for bananas or apples. While I liked the Mexican ambiance of the store, including use of Spanish signs, the signs also NEED to be in English.

    Still, we will go back frequently, I hope.

  30. Posted January 5, 2008 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Hmmmm, local scones, eh? I make a mean scone. Nothing on Nicola’s of course. But for an Ypsi scone, they’re not bad.

  31. egpenet
    Posted January 5, 2008 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    John on Forest:

    The entire crew there speaks English … just ask … maybe you’ll learn some Spanish along the way. They are very friendly and very polite.

    Many meats are different cuts than I am used to, but they have explained how they are used and gave me great suggestions.

    Like shopping in Europe … you enter a store in France and must announce yourself with a bonjour … in Dos Hermanos … just say … Ola! … and you’ll be guaranteed
    good service. Just ask: “Uue es in Ingese?”
    and they will explain.

    I LOVE the Mexican popsicles in the freezer section … mango, etc. Fabulous!

    And after you’ve checked out, say” “Muchas!” or the complete “Muchas gratsias!” … little courtesies we can all learn to make each other feel at home.

    The two brothers are memeebers of the Ypsilanti DAY and are very strobng supporters of downtown activities. Wait to you see what they have planned for Cincvo de Mayo! Ola! Niki at the Coney did us all a fabuklous job of corraling these brothers into coming into Ypsilanti. Buy a coney and tell Niki what a great job he did!

  32. John on Forest
    Posted January 6, 2008 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Ed,

    Yes, I got great service and some items that were not priced, I easily got assistance to know the price. The Mexican food products covered a good selection and we will go back, I’m sure.

    But, if they want to attract a vibrant business from a community that is 99.9% English speaking, they should strive to accommodate their customer base. Like I said, I like the “Mexican ambiance” of the Spanish signs; but, it is after all, a business in the USA. Perhaps if I ask, like you suggested, what the words on the signs mean, I will get the point across to the owners.

  33. egpenet
    Posted January 6, 2008 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Si. Learning Spanish is muy easy.

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