Ode to Zingermans
June 15, 2010
It’s been a blessing and a curse to have worked at Zingermans at such a young age. I think about that place every time I eat a piece of artisan bread that, under normal circumstances, would probably wow my tastebuds had I not been introduced to their Farm Bread or Paesano Loaf, and lets not even talk about the Raisin Pecan. The same goes for every so-called deli sandwich I’ve tasted over the years. I just want to ask the people behind the counter, “Why bother? Have you ever even had a sandwich from Zingermans?”
I was 17 years old and just about to graduate from high school when I got the job. I had been working at a second-rate bagel shop in a strip mall that shall remain nameless and my bosses there told me I had an attitude problem. I probably did, looking back, but I think it was a result of using a microwave like it was a stove and serving burnt cups of Folgers disguised as coffee, more than anything else.
I don’t remember mulling over my options or thinking about it too hard, a characteristic that would carry me through my twenties. I just remember thinking that Zingermans seemed cool so I filled out an application, got the job a few days later and walked into the bagel shop to tell them I quit. I was taking my attitude problem elsewhere.
But at Zingermans I didn’t have an attitude problem. Instead I was praised for my assertiveness, an important attribute when working in customer service. Then I was told I had the power to fix pretty much any issue without having to contact a manager. I was empowered they told me, a new concept to my 17 year old self. And one I liked.
You’re probably wondering why I’m going on about this. It does seem out of the blue, doesn’t it? Well, I received their latest catalog in the mail today and seeing the names of some of my former co-workers nestled in the copy got me thinking about those years. I admit, I do feel a bit nostalgic. Especially when reading about Portuguese Sardines or Chocolate Sourdough bread or Wild Fennel Pollen. It’s easy to forget the days when the line around the block felt like it would never end or the claustrophobia of the deli in the midst of a holiday rush. Yes, some of those days were long and I don’t wish for a time machine.
But I learned a lot from Zingermans. Probably more than at any other job I’ve had since. And I’ve been thinking a lot about jobs lately and what makes some good and others not so good. It’s really not as complicated as it seems, at least to me. It comes down to passion. If you’re truly passionate about something and want to see it through to its highest levels of greatness, then with some hard work and dedication, everything else pretty much falls into place. Much like a good relationship.
And I feel like I owe them a little something since now, 13 years later, I find my assertiveness to be one of my most favorite characteristcs.