Make room, New York delis. Zingerman's is coming to your town

The iconic deli from Ann Arbor, Mich., is planning a one-day pop-up on Oct. 7. But don't get too excited. This does not indicate plans for expansion.
Zingerman's deli pastrami
Zingerman's classic Reuben sandwich is legendary. |Photo courtesy of Zingerman's.

On Oct. 7, the iconic Michigan deli Zingerman’s is coming to New York City.

But before any Michiganders cry sacrilege, it’s important to note that this will not be a new location for the 41-year-old restaurant, which is deeply rooted in Ann Arbor and likely always will be.

Zingerman’s is coming to New York City for a one-day pop-up event that will be held at the Olly Olly Market in Chelsea. It’s an opportunity for University of Michigan fans who might be watching the game against Minnesota that day to tailgate like at home.

A lineup of the deli’s signature Reuben sandwiches will be on offer, from the Classic (#2) to Binny’s Brooklyn Reuben (#48) featuring the deli’s pastrami, Swiss Emmental cheese, The Brinery sauerkraut and Russian dressing on grilled pumpernickel (from Zingerman’s Bakehouse). All sandwiches will be $25, and come with a pickle spear, while they last.

Though such pop-ups can sometimes be used as a feeler to gauge interest in brand expansion, that is most definitely not the case for Zingerman’s, said Rodger Bowser, head chef and partner in the deli.

Founded by Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw in 1982, the deli has become a must-eat experience in the Upper Peninsula college town. The deli is now part of 11 businesses housed under the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, each separate entities created by employees, which include operations like a candy factory, a coffee roaster, a creamery making cheese and gelato and the Korean restaurant Miss Kim. The family reportedly includes about 750 employees with revenues of $78.5 million.

Earlier this year, Weinzweig and Saginaw announced they would transfer the majority ownership of their intellectual property rights to employees in the form of a Perpetual Property Trust over the next 10 to 20 years.

The goal is to prevent the company from going public, being sold to an outside company or franchising. The founders want to make sure Zingerman’s stayed in Ann Arbor, though the other businesses are owned by the managing partners and pay a fee for the right to use the Zingerman’s name. Workers can also buy shares and can have a say in operations.

In fact, Saginaw has moved to Las Vegas, where he opened a new concept called Saginaw's Delicatessen at the Circa resort and casino.

All this to say that Zingerman’s, the original concept, isn’t going anywhere. “We are definitely rooted in Ann Arbor,” said Bowser.

Still, that doesn’t mean the deli is opposed to an occasional road show.

A few years back, Zingerman’s was considering a sort of Reuben tour, so they did a pop-up event in 2019 in Chicago with the hospitality collective 16 on Center, which operates concepts like Beauty Bar, Dusek’s, Revival Food Hall and more. The group also operates Olly Olly Market in New York.

“They were amazing hosts,” said Bowser of 16 on Center.

“So this January one of the owners was in Ann Arbor and we said we should do another, it was so much fun. He mentioned they had a property in New York,” said Bowser. “It was a no brainer.”

It’s not like fans outside of Michigan can’t get a Zingerman’s fix.

Devotees can order “reuben kits” and other specialties by mail order, which is another of the family of businesses. But that’s not the same as having a hot sandwich made fresh by Zingerman’s staff.

The deli in Ann Arbor is known for churning out sandwiches as quickly as 25 every five minutes, sometimes producing more than 2,000 sandwiches on a game day in Ann Arbor. Bowser isn’t sure whether the skeleton crew coming to New York will be able to match that pace, but they’ll do their best.

“I’m not the normal sandwich maker, but I will be that day, and I’m not as young as I used to be,” he said.

“We didn’t know what to expect when we did it in Chicago because we had never done it before, but now we know somewhat what to expect,” he added. “I can only guess this might be a little bigger.”

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