Zingerman’s founder Paul Saginaw on his time with Obama, the importance of raising the minimum wage, and why business owners should invest in their employees instead of their lobbyists

    Early last winter, when the National Restaurant Association issued a formal statement about how raising the minimum wage would kill their industry, Paul Saginaw, one of the co-founders of Ann Arbor’s iconic Zingerman’s Deli, felt compelled to respond, and argue in favor of raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25. “We would be irresponsible employers if the jobs we provided could not support housing stability and health security,” Saginaw said in an op-ed that ran in Detroit News. “A living wage is the path to a living economy and the antidote to the current suicide economy trajectory we find ourselves on.” For this reason, Sagninaw added, Zingerman’s management is “motivated to gradually raise wages to a ‘thrive-able level’ for all of our lowest-paid employees across the board.” And, perhaps not surprisingly, by coming out on the side of America’s lowest-paid workers, Saginaw has been pulled into the national debate… culminating in a meeting a few days ago with President Obama at Zingerman’s. Curious as to how it all went down, I reached out to Paul and we met up for dinner in Ypsi to discuss the various state and federal campaigns underway to raise the minimum wage, and his ever-expanding role in the fight to make it happen. Following, with his approval, are my notes.

    paulsaginawdishwasher

    [For those of you unfamiliar with the current initiatives aimed at raising the minimum wage, you might want to begin by reading the background material that I shared a few days ago.]

    WHAT SET EVERYTHING IN MOTION? HOW’D YOU GET INVOLVED WITH THE MINIMUM WAGE DEBATE?

    Everything started a while ago. I wrote an op-ed piece. I wrote it for Crain’s, but it ran in the Detroit News. The Restaurant Association had put out a piece about how raising the minimum wage would be bad for business. So I thought, “We’ve got an iconic business and it might mean something if I came out and said, ‘This is bullshit.’” I sent it to the people at ROC, the Restaurant Opportunity Center, in Detroit, and asked them to get it to Crain’s, and they must have sent it out to a few places. It ran in the News and got picked up elsewhere. So someone at Business for a Fair Minimum Wage must have seen it. They contacted me and said, “Hey, thanks for doing this. We’re working really hard to get an audience with the Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez. Would you be willing to come to Washington?” And I said, “Hell, yeah. I’ve got friends there.” My friend, who owns the restaurant Busboys and Poets was running for Mayor of D.C. at the time… He ended up losing in a run-off… So I got to see him and visit my friends at Ben’s Chili Bowl.

    SO, THAT LOCAL OP-ED LED TO A MEETING WITH THE SECRETARY OF LABOR?

    I’ve now gone to D.C. twice. The first time was to meet the Secretary of Labor, who’s a wonderful man. Very engaging. He’d had groups of Republicans in to meet with him, and they’d told him why they thought that raising the minimum wage was a bad idea. But he wanted to hear from people who actually ran businesses. He wanted to know, “How can you have such a different perception of what raising the minimum wage would do?”

    WHY’D YOU TELL HIM THAT YOU PAY MORE THAN THE CURRENT MINIMUM WAGE?

    I gave him the business reasons. I mean, I do it because I think it’s the right thing to do, but there are compelling business reasons to do it also. It lowers your costs from the the standpoint of labor. And it raises the quality of your service. It allows you to have people who are more engaged. They’re not focused on how to get to work every day. They’re not worried about how their brakes are bad. They’re not thinking, “Please don’t pull me over, because I don’t have insurance.” They’re not worried about getting in an accident because they don’t have medical coverage. They’re also going to steal less. And they’re going to be more involved. And, for us, it’s part of a much bigger deal. It’s not just about wages. We’re also an open book company, and we’re sharing the profits.

    AND, A COUPLE OF MONTHS AFTER MEETING THE SECRETARY OF LABOR, OBAMA’S SHAKING HANDS AT ZINGERMAN’S. DID YOU KNOW IN ADVANCE THAT HE’D BE COMING?

    So, I knew that he was coming to Ann Arbor, and that I’d be somehow involved. The only thing I didn’t know was that he was going to eat at the deli. I knew that he knew what I’d done, and that they were connecting the dots. So I’d been in touch with different staffers at the White House. They called me. I’d get an email and it would say that I should be ready to get a phone call at a certain time. That’s how they do it. So they said, “You’re going to have a special ticket, and be at a meet and greet.” And that was how it started. And I said, “OK, you gotta get a ticket for my wife or else a 38 year old marriage will come to an end, and the blood’ll be on your hands.” And I said, “Look, there are other businesses in Ann Arbor where the owners have signed this petition. You’ve got to reach out to them.” And I gave them the list. And I called Matt and Rene Greff, and they hadn’t signed it, and I said, “Please sign it, I’m working on getting you a ticket.” And the White House people, instead of focusing on business people, picked two minimum wage workers from Detroit to meet and have lunch with the President, and I’m like, “Guys, this is why the Republicans kick our ass.” I told them, “You need to have him be up there with business people, not just a lot of students who are already in love with him. Get people who own businesses who have said, ‘This is a good idea’.” I couldn’t get tickets for anybody, though.

    SO, NOT EVEN A HINT THAT HE’D BE COMING TO ZINGERMAN’S FOR LUNCH?

    They called a couple days before, the White House did, and they said, “Hey, this is what’s going to happen. We want you and your wife at the deli, out in front, at 12:45. A White House ‘policy team’ is going to come, and you’ll have a kind of staged dialogue with them, and there will be some press there.” So I said, “OK, should I have a spot for them inside? Are they going to eat? Do they have a lot of time?” And the person I’m talking to says, “We’ll send you more details as we know them.” I should have known then (that it wasn’t going to just be a policy team). But you’re excited, you know? These kinds of things don’t happen all the time. So you’re not connecting all of the dots. So, then, I’m out there, waiting, and I get a text. “We’re five minutes out.” And then three vans pull up, and all of these Secret Service guys get out. And then the person I’ve been dealing with comes up and says, “The President has decided that he’ll be eating lunch here, if you want. You’ve got to make a decision right now. Here’s the Chief of Security, and he’ll explain it to you.” And the three young adults that were there… they didn’t know that they were going to be having lunch with him. One of them had been picked to introduce him at U-M. And the other two were minimum wage workers from ROC, in Detroit. They get all excited, and they start to pull their phones out. And she says, “Give me your cell phones right now. I’ll give them back to you afterwards.” And she says to me, “Tell your staff not to get on social media. If people start showing up, we’ll shut it down.” So the Chief of Security says, “All your customers who are here can stay, but they have to agree to be wanded, and they have to agree to stay until after he leaves.” I don’t think anybody left. Probably some people were a little unhappy, though, if they stayed, because it took a while… Maybe they had a job interview or something… So then you go, “Wow. This is kind of cool.” And they say, “We’ve got to see the person who will be taking his order and the person who’s going to be delivering it to him.” Then there are these two guys who look like all of the other security guys, but they’re from the Navy, and they’re the food security team. And they go into the kitchen… I think they’re more looking at sanitary stuff… And there’s an ambulance there… And I said to the guy making his sandwich, “Luis, don’t disappoint me… Don’t fuck it up.”

    WHAT DID YOU TALK WITH OBAMA ABOUT?

    zingreubenGOWhen he comes in… They kind of have a script that they want you to run. But, as soon as he walks into the deli, he starts going behind the counter. He’s very personable. And easy going. And graceful… I said, “Welcome to Zingerman’s, Mr. President. I really hope you’re hungry. Do you know what you want? Do you need any help?” And he says, “No, no, I had the menu in the car. I did my homework.” And my wife Lori said, “Mr. President, I want you to know that every day you and Michelle are in the White House is a gift that I’m grateful for.” And he goes, “That needs a hug. Can I hug you?” And he gives her a big hug. And I said, “I’ve gotta’ say, I got a little taste of what it’s like to put yourself out there. You know, when I went out and met with the Democratic Steering Committee about this, there was an article. And I got a thousand comments, and only two of them were favorable.” And he said, “Really, you read the comments? Don’t ever waste your time reading the comments. I never read them.”

    AND THEN HE GOT A REUBEN?

    Yeah. So, he ordered. And then they were going to go upstairs to eat. Like I said, they’d picked out these three young people to eat with. But, before he goes upstairs… And you know that two or three days before they must have come in and scoped the whole thing out… They had two Secret Service agents at each door, one the inside, and one the outside. And, when the motorcade was pulling away, and I’m looking out the window, you start seeing the snipers coming down… But, before he walked upstairs, in the south dining area, where the garage doors go up, he walked in there and went up to every single customer.

    obamazingermans2I SAW QUITE A FEW PHOTOS FROM HIS VISIT TO ZINGERMAN’S BUT I DIDN’T SEE YOU IN ANY OF THEM.

    My interest is the work. The fact that he’s there is thrilling, but I wanted our staff to be there, and enjoy it. I wanted him to engage with them.

    WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE THAT RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE WILL KILL THE ECONOMY?

    The minimum wage isn’t really an economic issue at all. There’s no legitimate economist that believes that raising the minimum wage is going to slow down the economy, or job growth. It’s only a political issue. No one has shown any real study to the contrary.

    HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THOSE WHO WOULD SAY, “SURE, ZINGERMAN’S CAN PAY ABOVE MINIMUM WAGE, BUT THAT’S BECAUSE THEY CHARGE $16 FOR A SANDWICH?

    People think that, because we charge what we do for a sandwich, we can pay more. What they don’t really know is that our margins are so much smaller than a McDonalds, or at a pizza place, or… You know what I mean?

    Also, you know, it’s just the right thing to do. People worry about whether or not the chicken had a good life, but do they give a shit about the dishwasher? If they do, they should support this… And these aren’t just kids that are working for minimum wage… And it’s not a low-skill job. People work really, really hard in this industry. The bottom line is, if you come to work and you work full-time, shouldn’t you at least be able to meet your basic needs? If you can’t, we’re going to have food wars. We’ll have civil unrest. Why can’t they see that?

    saginaw3b

    CLEARLY THE REPUBLICANS WILL KILL THE BILLS BEING CONSIDERED IN THE LEGISLATURE. WHAT IF WE WERE TO GET IT ON THE BALLOT BEFORE THE PEOPLE OF MICHIGAN, THOUGH?

    If the Raise Michigan campaign is successful, and it gets on the November ballot, it would pass, absolutely.

    WERE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT COMING OUT AND TAKING A PUBLIC ROLE IN THIS FIGHT? DID YOU THINK THAT IT MIGHT HURT ZINGERMAN’S BUSINESS?

    The only concern I had was my obligation to my partners. I could go out and say, “This is how I feel,” but that’s not going to work. The listener believes that I’m speaking for the whole Zingerman’s organization. So I had to get the proxy of my partners.

    HAVE THERE BEEN NEGATIVE RAMIFICATIONS?

    The emails pour in, but I don’t believe so. They come in through the website, and they go to Zingerman’s Mail Order, because that’s at the front end of our portal. There’s some positive, but it’s almost all negative. On Facebook, people are more positive. They’re identified, and, as a result, there’s less of a tendency to be a total asshole. But people send emails saying, “You should be ashamed of yourself for letting that Muslim king piece-of-garbage politicize your restaurant. We’ve always enjoyed coming there, but we will never step foot in there again.” Most of them aren’t really customers. Sometimes they are. I say, “Hey, you know, there’s a lot of up-side and down-side to the capitalist system, but certainly a big part of the up-side is that we all have our own money, and we’ve got a lot of choices as to where we spend it. I appreciate your point of view, and I’ll miss your business.” Most of those emails have to do with abortion, though, and not the minimum wage. We’ve always been public supporters of Planned Parenthood. And every year that starts… They all have a script when they call… I always answer the first one.

    YOU MENTION THAT, WITH ZINGERMAN’S, IT’S ABOUT MORE THAN JUST HIGHER WAGES. CAN YOU GIVE ME AN EXAMPLE OF WHAT ELSE YOU DO FOR YOUR EMPLOYEES?

    Well, we have a community chest. Five-percent of all of our profit goes into an emergency relief fund for our employees. So, if you’re experiencing some financial crisis that isn’t the direct result of your fucked up behavior, we have a way to help. So, if it’s like, “I got really drunk and ran my car off the road, can you help me buy a new car?” We’d say, “No.” But, like, if your sister is dying in California, and you need to be there, to work with her through her death, and you don’t have enough paid time off, and can’t even afford a ticket out there… Then, we might be able to help… Or, “My spouse has been unemployed for 18 month and they’re going to foreclose on our house.” Most people who get into trouble, it’s because they were sick, or they had a sick child, and had to go to an emergency room. And now they’re $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000 in debt. They’re never going to wake up in the morning and find an extra $15,000 on the table. So that causes them to start making bad choices.

    HOW DOES THE COMMUNITY CHEST WORK?

    I have a coworker, Lynn Yates, who administers the community chest. She does the intake. So you would come to her, and she’d have you fill out an application. If you’re going to ask for assistance, we’re going to want a lot of information. You’re opening a door. And we’re going to step in, and it’s going to get personal. We don’t just want to assist in this crisis but we want to help get you on firm ground so maybe this doesn’t happen again. So, she does the intake, and she’s also aware of all of the agencies out there. She know what social services are out there, and how to access the safety net. Then I go over them with her, and, if they’re $750 or under, we can make the decision. If it’s over that, there are two other partners who are on the selection committee, and that rotates. They’re two year terms, and they’re staggered, so one of the two people is replaced each year. And we have a 24 hour turnaround. And we do it over email. There can be payback, but it’s structured as a gift. It goes in your W2 as salary. We’re not a private foundation, so we have to do it that way. But, if you’re in that position, you’re not really paying much in the way of taxes anyway. Or it could be a loan with very, very favorable terms. We charge what’s called the “allowable federal minimum,” so that it’s legitimate with the IRS. And we do payroll deduction. Or, like I said, it’s gifted.

    WHAT’S THIS TAUGHT YOU ABOUT YOUR EMPLOYEES?

    You have opinions about people. You think, because they don’t have money, that they make all of these stupid choices, that they’re spending their money on cable, and on this, and on that… My experience has shown that the reality is that they’re very aware of where every dollar is coming from and where every dime goes. You can’t get through the day without knowing that… We have classes where people can learn how to make a budget… for the first time in their life, sometimes.

    HOW’D YOU COME TO THE DECISION TO RAISE WAGES?

    When you do that budget with people, you realize that they’re fucked. When they’re bringing home this amount of money, and they have these expenses, which aren’t extravagant… they’re almost bare bones… you realize pretty quickly that it’s not sustainable. It could be that there was a divorce, or an accident, or student loans, or whatever it is, that got them into this position. And we really discovered that a modest increase in salary could make a difference. That’s when we really started to raise our entry level wage… We saw that you could make a pretty big difference in a lot of lives. That was eye opening.

    Wages have been stuck, you know? If you take into account inflation, people are making what they did in the ‘50s and ‘60s. So you have the middle class dripping down, sliding down, into the poorer class. And the wealth is just being concentrated and concentrated at the top. And, for some reason, these people at the top need more. And they feel that they have a lot at stake. And, now, with the Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited campaign spending, it’s totally fucked. It’s insane.

    WHERE’S YOUR ENTRY LEVEL WAGE NOW, AND WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IT?

    Right now, our entry level is at $9, and we want to get that to $11 by next year. Are we’re really shooting for around $14 as entry level.

    WHAT ABOUT YOUR TIPPED EMPLOYEES AT THE ROADHOUSE?

    The servers are paid the tipped minimum. But they’re making $18 to $24 an hour at the Roadhouse. We brought forward the idea of becoming a non-tip restaurant and they revolted. But we might be able to revisit it in the future, as more new employees come in.

    IS $10.10 A “THRIVABLE” WAGE?

    No, not in Ann Arbor… Here’s the thing you have to understand with Zingerman’s, though. Our employees have a very good health insurance plan too. For single coverage, it costs around $15 a month out of an employee’s check, with the company picking up $335, or something. Then there’s gain sharing too.

    HOW DO YOU DEFINE “THRIVABLE”?

    We couldn’t, so we changed from “thrivable” to “wages up.”

    IN THE WAKE OF THE PRESIDENT’S VISIT, WHEN THE HUFFINGTON POST DECLARED ZINGERMAN’S “THE BEST DELI IN THE WORLD,” DID YOU SEE AN UPTICK IN BUSINESS?

    Yes. When the word went out that the President had eaten at the deli, and that he’d said that the reuben was “killer,” we started to get a lot of mail-order activity from people who had never heard of us before. And I don’t we experienced a local hit. The people who are yelling at us aren’t our customers. For them, it’s just one more thing to scream about.

    obamaMichigan3

    DOES THE CRITICISM, EVEN THOUGH IT’S NOT FROM YOUR CUSTOMERS, CAUSE YOU TO DO ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY?

    It reminds me that I have to keep trying to be a better employer. When you put yourself out there, you certainly don’t want it to come out that you’re a hypocrite. And I like that. It really forces you to be a good employer. It forces you to look at everything you’re doing. Because you’re saying, “We’re doing this, you can do it too.”

    WHAT KIND OF CRITICISM ARE YOU HEARING?

    People are saying, “Yeah, Paul Sagnaw is doing this because he wants to force his competitors out of business.” (Laughs.) …What are you talking about? We work so hard to force out competitors out of business that we teach our systems to everybody.

    The first time I went to Washington, an article came out. I don’t even know how MLive got the story. They must have had a Google alert set or something, because I didn’t announce that I was going. So, quickly, three articles came out, and that generated a little over a thousand comments. I think that four were favorable. Rick Strutz, one of the managing partners at the deli, did some sleuthing, and went through it, and, at that point, 9 to 11 people accounted for 80% of it or something. They just go back and forth…. My wife has had training in compassion. I think I’m compassionate, but she’s actually gone to this training, about how to be present, and have a compassionate heart. And I tried to follow her example and turn that frustration into compassion.

    I imagine the person who’s saying this stuff, and I believe they’re miserable, and they have a miserable life. And I tell myself that I should feel sorry for them. I picture somebody out of shape, with their boxer shorts on, and their t-shirt is torn and not quite covering a hairy underbelly. And they’ve got a big Cherry Coke slurpee, and a really big Costco-sized bag of Cheetos, and the orange cheeto dust is all over their face and their chin and their hands, and they’re sitting there at their computer, figuring out who to hate.

    IT’S LIKE WHEN PEOPLE LEAVE COMMENTS ON MLIVE ATTACKING TEACHERS FOR THEIR “GOLDPLATED” BENEFITS INSTEAD OF FOCUSING ON THE CEOS WHO ARE MAKING BILLIONS. IT’S EASIER TO FOCUS YOUR ANGER ON YOUR NEIGHBORS.

    The right wing is very, very good at getting their message across. They’re very good at getting their people to vote against their own interests. The Democrats just aren’t that good at it.

    SO, WHAT HAPPENED AT U-M, AFTER OBAMA LEFT ZINGERMAN’S?

    Lori and I had reserved seats with Debbie Dingell and Mark Schauer.

    HAVING THE MINIMUM WAGE ON THE BALLOT WOULD REALLY HELP HIM.

    This is going to help all of the Democrats… And Schauer, if you don’t know him, seems to be a good guy.

    SO, OBAMA HAD A FEW GOOD LINES ABOUT ZINGERMAN’S AT THE EVENT.

    When he said, “The first thing I did was go to Zingerman’s,” I was was like, “Wow.” He’s funny… And he called me out by name. He said “Zingerman’s owner Paul Saginaw flew out to Washington D.C. not to lobby for himself, but to… And we need more business owners who…” It was embarrassing at that point.

    BUT IT’S GOT TO BE NICE TO BE RECOGNIZED FOR YOUR WORK, RIGHT?

    We do things, I like to believe, for the right reasons. But, yeah, you like to think, if there’s any justice out there, you’ll get that recognition. And, you hope, if you do, that you have the humility to accept it with grace… But, yes, it’s cool that he he came here to Zingerman’s because of that work… You do a lot of digging. You do your work, you know? And eventually good things happen. In this case, the result was that the President came here.

    WHAT DO YOU THINK WENT INTO THE CALCULATION THAT BROUGHT HIM HERE? IN ADDITION TO ZINGERMAN’S, AND THE BALLOT INITIATIVE, WHAT ELSE WENT INTO IT?

    It was a confluence of various things. Gary Peters is in a tough race. So that was part of it. A lot of Democrats are afraid to bring Obama in, right? But Peters wanted him here. And it was a good time for Obama, as it had just been announced that more than 7 million had signed up for Obabmcare. And then you had Gary Peters saying, “Come on out and help me.” So it was timing, and some luck too.

    AND NOW YOU’RE ALL OVER THE PRESS.

    Yeah, I’ve been doing some other stuff with Business for a Fair Minimum Wage…. I’m available to them, if they want me… I just did a telephone press conference with Tom Harkin and Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist. They just call me and tell me when they need me. And I’ve got my talking points all ready.

    I did Mitch Albom’s show a couple of days ago. And I’ve got to tell you, they don’t like the guest trying to be the funny guy. I think I was pissing him off. He said, “So how does it work when the Secret Service comes in?” And I said, “I can’t tell you.” And he ask how many agents there were, and I told him there were 24 to 32. And he asks how that’s possible. “It’s pretty small in there,” he says. “How’d you fit them all in?” And I say, “Mitch, it’s been a long time ago that you wrote that biography on Bo, and used to come up every once in a while, but we’ve actually expanded quite a bit since then.” And he was like, “Why are you insulting me? I’m trying to give you some publicity here.” And I’m doing this interview on the phone, in Costco. I’m shopping with my dad’s live-in aide. And I’m in the detergent aisle or something. And I say something about Obama like, “He’s got a lightness to him. He’s got a nice graceful way of being in the world.” And Mitch says, “Oh my God, are you drinking the kool aid.” So I said, “Tell me, Mitch, where do you stand on the side of the argument here? How do you feel about the Fair Minimum Wage Act?” And there was total silence. And then he hung up.

    The day before the President came, I get a call from someone at AnnArbor.com, and he asks if Obama is coming to the deli. And this is before I even know that I’m going to meet him. He said, “Do you think that the President coming will make a difference with how people vote on this?” And I thought that I was off-record. So I made the mistake of giving him a kind of lengthy, nuanced answer. I said, “You know, think about where the level of civility is in our society right now—is it even possible to have a meaningful dialogue? I think everyone comes to the table with their mind made up. It doesn’t matter which side you’re on, we all turn on the talking heads that are going to give us the messages that we want. And no one seems to be coming into a discussion with a willingness to listen, and a belief that, if I hear a compelling argument, I may change my mind. I just don’t think that’s happening anymore.” So an article some out with the headline, “Owner of Zingerman’s Says Obama Can’t Make a Difference.” So, the next morning, I get a call from the White House. The woman said, “What are you doing, Paul?” And I said, “But I didn’t say that.” And she says, “Don’t talk with anybody until after he leaves town.”

    Oh, and my favorite line, which I came up with on the spot, during an interview I did with NPR’s Stateside, was some advice to the Restaurant Association members fighting the Minimum Wage Act… “Invest your money in your employees and not your lobbyists.”

    This entry was posted in Ann Arbor, Civil Liberties, Corporate Crime, Food, Michigan, Politics, Sustainability, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

      42 Comments

      1. Ken Horner
        Posted April 13, 2014 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

        When the cheeto dust settles, our side will have won. Fear not.

      2. Posted April 14, 2014 at 5:52 am | Permalink

        Paul Saginaw is an awesome leader.

        Thanks to Matt and Renee for signing on too, although it sounds like something shiny had to be dangled in front of them to make it happen. That is not surprising to me.
        Here are the other MI business owners on the nationwide petition for raising the minimum wage in the FLSA:

        Lorne Beatty, V.P. Sales, Blue Chip Technologies
        Brighton, MI

        Georgina Best, owner, Jamie’s Lakewood Auto
        Ann Arbor, MI

        Milton Bullman, Owner, Garfeild Plaza Car Wash
        Traverse City, MI

        Jordan Buzzy, Co-Owner, ThoughtWell Media
        Ann Arbor, MI

        Mary Campbell, Owner, Everyday Wines, Inc
        Ann Arbor, MI

        Dennis Cox, President, Dennis Cox LLC
        Ann Arbor, MI

        Andrew Didorosi, Owner, The Detroit Bus Company
        Detroit, MI

        Arnold Goldman, President, IDN-Hardware Sales, Inc.
        Livonia, MI

        Rene Greff, Owner, Corner Brewery
        Ypsilanti, MI

        Matthew Greff, Owner, Arbor Brewing Company
        Ann Arbor, MI

        Virginia Hardesty, Owner, Civitas-IT
        Grand Rapids, MI

        Joel Howell, Owner, Logic System Labs
        Grand Rapids, MI

        WAP John, owner, Grafaktri, Inc.
        Ann Arbor, MI

        Heather Leavitt, Owner, Sweet Heather Anne
        Ann Arbor, MI

        Steven Lesse, Owner, Abracadabra Jewelry, LLC
        Ann Arbor, MI

        Cendra Lynn, Dr. and Director, Griefnet
        Ann Arbor, MI

        Dr. William J. Martin Jr., Owner, Bio-Health Centre
        Lansing, MI

        Armand Nevers, Owner, Time On My Hands Antiques
        Detroit, MI

        Randy Osmun, Executive Director, The SOURCE
        Grand Rapids, MI

        Traven Pelletier, President, Elemental Design LLC
        Dexter, MI

        Thomas Root, Owner, President, Maker Works
        Ann Arbor, MI

        Paul Saginaw, Co-Founding Partner, Zingerman’s Community of Businesses
        Ann Arbor, MI

        Lori Saginaw, Owner, Saginaw Design LLC
        Ann Arbor, MI

        D. Joan Sampieri, Owner, D. Joan Sampieri Associates
        Manchester, MI

        Margaret Schankler, Proprietor, Hello! Ice Cream
        Ann Arbor, MI

        Robert Vogt, CEO, IOSiX, LLC
        Ann Arbor, MI

        Lisa Waud, Owner, Pot & Box
        Ann Arbor, MI

        Lonnie White, Owner, Picture Perfect Painters
        Lansing, MI

      3. Posted April 14, 2014 at 5:57 am | Permalink

        whoops, left off these two signatories:

        Eve Aronoff, Chef/Owner, Frita Batidos
        Ann Arbor, MI

        Guy Bazzani, CEO, Bazzani Associates
        Grand Rapids, MI

      4. Anonymous
        Posted April 14, 2014 at 6:24 am | Permalink

        This might be a good opportunity to share the link with other business leaders you know, whose places of business you frequent, asking them to join theses others.

      5. Posted April 14, 2014 at 6:57 am | Permalink

        “Invest your money in your employees and not your lobbyists.”

        I know this is a business-focused interview/article, but I think it warrants mention here that nonprofits and social justice organizations [including unions and, frankly, the Democratic Party] need to start thinking along these lines too.

        Invest in employees, especially organizers, if you want to sustainably grow your organization and the movements for justice. Too many unions and nonprofits spend too much of their resources on relationship-building with elites while ignoring their base. It shows in the election results in MI as of late.

        Full disclosure: I am a former employee of a union organization [2008-2012]

      6. Posted April 14, 2014 at 7:10 am | Permalink

        Everyone knows that business will be ruined if they paid their employees what they’re worth.

      7. Posted April 14, 2014 at 7:11 am | Permalink

        Communists.

      8. John Galt
        Posted April 14, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

        If you were to remove the minimum wage altogether people would make more money. Companies would compete for talent and wages would rise. Let the free market work it’s magic. You will see great things. Prosperity will explode in America like a drunken shotgun blast in the face from the hand of Dick Cheney.

      9. Posted April 14, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

        Yeah, right, because “market magic” was working so well prior to the 1938 passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

      10. Posted April 14, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

        If everyone would just get jobs, wages would rise.

      11. anonymous
        Posted April 14, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

        “The President has decided that he’ll be eating lunch here, if you want.”

        I like the addition of, “If you want.”

      12. Frosted Flakes
        Posted April 14, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

        I guess I am one of those people who argue that Zingerman’s is more in control of their profit margins because of the demographic they serve.

        Zingerman’s is one of the few businesses that can inflate their prices and the customers ( in general) will not care because the average Zingerman’s customer can afford it or at least feel that they can afford it. Paying 12 dollars for an entree versus 18 dollars is not an issue for the average Zingerman’s customer. Having said that Zingerman’s does not feel like a good value to me.

        Zingerman’s is in a unique position because they are a business (most towns have businesses like this) that has found a way to appeal to customers that do not mind paying extra. It does not surprise me that Zingerman’s would pay their entry level employees 20 percent more because they are competing for those entry level customers that although doing entry level work still have an orientation toward excellence in terms of work, social graces and hygiene. I don’t mean to put Zimerman’s down. Zingerman’s has its place but I really don’t think it is fair to gloss over the fact that Zingerman’s is a unique position to pay higher than average wages by saying “Zingerman’s profit margins are smaller than McDonald’s or some pizza place”. Good local pizza places and burger joints go out of business all the time while still paying minimum wage. I wonder what their profit margins were looking like?! It is not easy to find employees that add value to a business…Not every business has Obama as a guest…

      13. Tara
        Posted April 14, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        I worked at Zingerman’s for 2.5 years. I started out at $9/hr and was making $12 by the time I left. Instead of doing the perfunctory 3% annual raise (which adds up to very little at an hourly rate), they provide opportunities to make more money by taking on more responsibility. I was given a small promotion tailored to my specific skills. So not only was I able to make more money, I felt personally valued by my employers. Most workplaces don’t operate this way and damn have I missed it.

      14. Posted April 14, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        Any business that can’t include a fair wage in their business model and make it work simply shouldn’t be in business at all.

        I don’t understand why that doesn’t occur to people? Businesses have to assess things like rent, supplies and other operating expenses, but are totally willing to skimp on labor. That, to me, is unforgivable.

      15. Jonathan
        Posted April 14, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink

        I read this on the train this morning. The Cheetos imagery was superb. I will never read a comments section the same way again.

        I like when speakers risk more and fear less. He has a fan in me.

      16. Meta
        Posted April 14, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        Is there an opposite list of local business owners who have gone on record against raising the minimum wage? If so, I’d be very interested to see it.

      17. Frosted Flakes
        Posted April 14, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        Peter,

        I do not know what your experiences are in terms of business management but I have found that it is not easy to find employees who are able or willing to add value to a business. I am not saying that as some sort of a emotional response to employees in general I am talking about simple math.

        It is not easy to turn a profit in the restaurant business. Many open and good restaurants are on their way toward closure because the owners are barely making money. In those restaurants the employees are the only ones making money.

        I think some people are under the illusion that business owners are making money hand over fist when in actuality being a business owner often feels more akin to philanthropy.

        The average Ann Arbor citizen is very insulated from the realities of the SMALL business world, in my opinion. Most people here work for the city or the state. In my opinion, that is where a lot of idealism comes from around here.

      18. John Galt Jr.
        Posted April 14, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        How DARE he reference my hairy cheeto-stained undercarriage. I will never eat at Zipplemen’s AGAIN!

      19. Posted April 14, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        “It is not easy to turn a profit in the restaurant business. ”

        There is no reason that we should coddle businesses which fail to compensate their workers properly. By setting the wage bar so low, we are allowing substandard businesses to function.

        I have no sympathy for businesses which don’t put their employees first.

      20. Posted April 14, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        While Paul Saginaw & I have completely different types of businesses from each other, I admire him immensely. The argument that I hear so frequently about how Zingerman’s is a business that survives because of where it is doesn’t give the owners enough credit for having a wonderful, inventive business model that has as it’s foundation compassion. I’ve got to stop reading about him because I’m developing an unhealthy crush.
        ; )

      21. Bob
        Posted April 14, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        I love the part where Obama disses Matt & Rene Greff.

      22. Theresa
        Posted April 14, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        I want a Paul Saginaw fan t-shirt that has the “Luis, don’t fuck it up” graphic on it.

      23. sad face
        Posted April 14, 2014 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        I wish I had interesting, quotable friends to have dinner with.

      24. Posted April 14, 2014 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        Meta: https://www.michiganrestaurant.org/Documents/News/Press%20Releases/2014/Official%20Statement%20on%20President%20Obama's%20Ann%20Arbor%20Visit%20-%20FINAL%204-1-2014.pdf

      25. Frosted Flakes
        Posted April 14, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        Peter,

        entry level restaurant work is often the first job secured by young people. It is often a young person’s introduction to work life. Many of these young people are seriously deficient in life skills and work skills. I often think of these entry level jobs as an extension of their education and there is a lot to learn! From my point of view raising the minimum wage endangers a lot of valuable educational opportunities for many people.Having said that, I think when a worker gains proficiency they should be rewarded accordingly. Assuming that everyone, or even most young inexperienced people who have never had a job are going to add 10 dollars an hour of value to a business is not consistent with reality in my opinion. I know that sounds harsh but that has been my experience and i have done the math. I am not saying to turn our backs on inexperienced or otherwise subpar functioning employees rather I am saying it is reasonable to pay them less because you are essentially educating them. I think it makes good business sense to hire from within, add responsibility and add dollars to paychecks accordingly as Tara reports that Zingerman’s did with her during her employment stint with them. Such a process will not work with all employees. We all have our limitations. Zingerman’s is unusually privileged in terms of the demographic they serve as well as their access to a very educated young work force that is relatively much more upwardly mobile and able to take on more responsibilities.

        If turning a profit is the measure of whether or not a restaurant is substandard, then the vast majority of restaurants are substandard within their first years of startup. I want more income equality too but sometimes putting the employees first means making the business unsustainable. No business means no employees.

      26. Posted April 14, 2014 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

        I thought we had a consumer-based economy. Seems to me putting more money into the hands of people who have a lower-income and less likely to have accumulated wealth [so they won't be saving the money, they will be spending it] will create more jobs because people are buying more things.

      27. Posted April 14, 2014 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

        I just want everyone to know that because my anti-Mitch Albom feelings have been vindicated, I am going to pledge to eat at Zingermans NextDoor every week this summer. I am going to get my favorite “dancing lunch” and think about pissing down Mitch’s throat as I eat it. I might even get one of those donut muffins that I love even though they are 700000 calories. I don’t care. I have a pal in the anti-Mitch wars.

        Please remind me to keep this pledge because you have no idea how delighted I am to read anything that slams that little prick. I just got a major crush on Mr. Saginaw (although I am very sorry he had to put up with that bullshit).

        (This is personal, btw…they filmed part of one of his shitty movies at the house next to my dad’s house in Troy and Mitch was a complete dick to my dad and the other neighbors. And his writing is like warmed over shit left over from last week’s shit buffet.)

      28. Posted April 14, 2014 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

        Kudos to Paul for speaking out! I know tech is different, but even for entry-level, non-technical jobs at Duo, we pay no less than $15/hr as our minimum wage, as Robert Reich has argued for: http://huffpost.com/us/entry/5114747

        I never made much working in food service (ultimately working for food, not wages), and wondered how much competition there might be for some of the best (or at least, most fun :-) line cooks and sous chefs in Ann Arbor I’d met. It does seem harder to scale value in manual labor, but as technology increases productivity and we enjoy overall economic progress, we should really be raising the floor for everybody.

        A bigger issue in the tech sector (and many others, unfortunately) is the use of non-compete agreements, which Concentrate recently covered: http://concentratemedia.com/features/Non-CompeteContracts0278.aspx

        California is the only state in the union that gets this right, and abolishes such limits to worker mobility. I wish Michigan would follow suit – “right to work” my ass!

      29. Jcp2
        Posted April 14, 2014 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

        So I guess Wednesdays With Patti doesn’t get greenlighted then.

      30. Bob Krzewinski
        Posted April 14, 2014 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

        Back in the 80′s and living in Florida, I went to a restaurant-entertainment complex where at dinner it seemed that all the waiters were happy and sincerely interested in the customers. I finally asked a waiter why the staff in this place had such a glow. He said that they were paid very well and felt respected by their management.

        On the part of the interview about Mitch Albom, still proves he is nothing more than an asshole scab (stabbed his fellow Detroit Free Press in the back during the strike) who is in own little “AM I NOT WONDERFULLLL!!!!!” world.

      31. wobblie
        Posted April 15, 2014 at 4:31 am | Permalink

        Frosted Flakes—the primary difference between successful restaurants and failures have little or nothing to do with employees, and everything to do with landlords. If you own the building that houses your restaurant, you will much more likely be successful. If you rent your space, once you start to become successful, the landlord raises the rent. You end up working for the landlord.

      32. Frosted Flakes
        Posted April 15, 2014 at 6:17 am | Permalink

        Wobblie,

        Restaurants go out of business because they fail to sell enough food compared to their expenses. Rent/ mortgage is an expense and therefore a determining factor in the success of a restaurant. Labor and food costs are expenses too. In a healthy restaurant labor costs will be 25 to 40 percent of sales. Labor expense is an important expense to track!!!

      33. anonymous
        Posted April 15, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        Restaurants go out of business because of cocaine.

      34. Frosted Flakes
        Posted April 15, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

        Silence, for the truth that has been spoken

      35. Chuck D
        Posted April 15, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Paul Saginaw has consistently demonstrated over several decades that he is a man of great integrity.

      36. deleuzean
        Posted April 15, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        Honest question in case someone reading this actually knows the answer:

        What are the top salaries in the Zingerman’s organization?

        The reason I think it’s a valuable piece of information is that people see successful business owners as these “fat cat” millionaires – whether or not this actually true.

        The answer could cut at least two ways, both positive: 1) if the top earners are getting six figures (or more), then that says “Yes, you can get crazy paid as a top officer of a company that treats its entry level employees well!” or 2) if the top earners are getting more modest pay, then it says “You can have a phenomenally successful, nationally known and treasured business, if you focus on the success of your employees by, in part, narrowing income inequality within that business!”

      37. Myrriad
        Posted April 15, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

        It is great to see one of the many longtime Ann Arbor businesses who treat their employees well get noticed. Zingerman’s was a relative latecomer to the party which included Blue Front, Middle Earth and Sam’s Store (among many others who operated this way when Zingerman’s opened in the 80s). The established progressive attitude toward employees in this town has made it possible for employees to live a decent life and (for me, a former employee at all four of these businesses at one time or another) a healthy attitude toward the community. At Sam’s, for example I got one of the best employee packages a ‘joe’ job can have: more than twice the minimum wage, health care and profit sharing plus the ability to purchase my clothes at wholesale prices. We worked hard and prided ourselves at superior customer service and attention to detail.
        I only wish some of these other places would get noticed. Ann Arbor is full of stores just like Zingermans.

      38. Posted April 15, 2014 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

        Jcp2–I blew it didn’t I? I think he was totally going to write that book about us just hanging out while I worked. FUCK. My damn big mouth….

      39. Dick Nesmith
        Posted April 22, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

        And they could soon be paying living wages in Ypsi as well.

        http://www.mlive.com/business/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2014/04/zingermans_espresso_royal_sign.html

      40. Dan
        Posted April 22, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        And they could soon be paying living wages in Ypsi as well.

        Don’t hold your breath

      41. Mr. Y
        Posted April 30, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        It just died in the Senate thanks to a Republican filibuster.

      42. Mr. Y
        Posted May 8, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

        FROM THINK PROGRESS:

        The founder and CEO of Subway says a minimum wage increase wouldn’t be such a bad thing for his stores and workers and believes it should be changed so that wages rise automatically with inflation.

        “I’m not concerned,” CEO Fred DeLuca said on Wednesday when CNBC asked him about minimum wage hikes. “Over the years, I’ve seen so many of these wage increases. I think it’s normal. It won’t have a negative impact hopefully, and that’s what I tell my workers.”

        DeLuca’s support is noteworthy in part because of the size of his business. Subway has the most locations of any fast food chain. While a majority of small business owners support a $10.10 wage hike, major corporations of that scale typically oppose raising wages.

        http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/05/08/3435546/subway-minimum-wage/

      2 Trackbacks

      1. […] [note: If you haven't already, you should also check out my recent interview with Paul Saginaw on why we have to raise the minimum wage.] […]

      2. […] cooperative. Not satisfied to leave it at that, I reached out to Zingerman’s co-founder Paul Saginaw this weekend to ask why they wouldn’t be pursuing a cooperative model, and what, specifically, […]

      Leave a Reply

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


      × 9 = eighty one

      You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

        Connect

        Corner ad Wurst Bar ad BUY LOCAL... or shop at Amazon through this link Banner Initiative Elkins banner