Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Founding of Zingerman's: Jewish Food becomes Secular

Zingerman’s Deli, still on Detroit Street here in Ann Arbor, and expanding, was founded March 15, 1982 by Paul Saginaw, Michael Monahan, and Ari Weinzweig. A recent book by Ari Weinzweig is on bacon – his self-image as promoted in lectures and writings is that he’s transgressive. But Zingerman’s appeal is that it’s supposed to make you think of an old-fashioned Jewish deli while promoting a variety of gourmet foods for 21st century cooks and epicures.

I used to shop at Zingerman's much more than I do now. For me it has very little nostalgia, compared to the Jewish delis of St.Louis where I grew up, and where my father shopped for corned beef and half-sour pickles. (In my earliest childhood, the pickles were actually in a barrel, but that's an aside.) I do like the bakery -- the photos are from a Thanksgiving visit on a day when they sell 20,000 loaves of bread.

Yes, Zingerman's has a certain resonance for the secular Jews who like the idea of Jewish food subtly invading the general American diet. After all, bagels did that so long ago that no one even knows where they came from. My brother buys bagels at the open-air market in Galway, Ireland, from a local baker who lives in a nearby village -- and seems to think they are mainstream American. How invaded can you get?

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