WHO // Ari
WHERE // Ann Arbor, MI
WHAT'S HE DO // Co-founder of Zingerman's community of businesses & author
WHAT DOES HE DRINK // Regular black cup 'o Joe
Upon entering Zingerman's coffee shop one Sunday morning, I knew exactly who I was looking for, otherwise I probably would have glanced over the man in the back of the shop, typing away on his macbook. I wondered if anyone else grabbing their Sunday morning coffee knew that the guy in the back wearing a "in lard we trust" tee with multiple ear piercings and curly disheveled hair was the co founder of this community of businesses with over 750 employees and over $55 million in annual revenue. Ari warmly thanked me for meeting with him an hour earlier than our 9am arrangement because he had to drive up and pick up a corgi puppy to give his current corgi puppy company, and then proceeded to show me pictures of Bean Sprout and the new un named pup.
If you didn't know, Zingerman's Delicatessen is a nationally renowned food icon, with sandwiches Oprah rates an 11/10, and premiering in movies like The Five-Year Engagement. Alongside the Deli, businesses in the community include the Bakehouse, Coffee Company, Creamery, Roadhouse, ZingTrain, Candy Manufactory, Cornman Farms, and a Korean restaurant (to open soon). Needless to say, if you have come to Ann Arbor, you have been touched by Zingerman's in some way shape or form, and if not by food, it's by their world class customer service which many local and national businesses take from ZingTrain program.
For the hour I had to pick Ari's brain, here are a few lessons I learned from his success story:
We are all figuring it out. No one knows exactly what they're doing. Some people may be better at pretending at others, but we are all just figuring it out.
I just knew I didn’t want to go home after graduating (from UofM) with a degree in Russian History. I had no interest in food, I had no interest in business. My college roommate was waiting tables at this restaurant that was on Forth and Liberty and I went to apply for a job waiting tables. They wouldn’t hire me. I went back to bus tables, they didn’t call me. I reapplied and said I’ll do anything and they had me washing dishes. So that’s how it started, and Paul (Saginaw) was the general manager. Frank from the Bakehouse was the line cook, Maggie from ZingTrain was the cocktail waitress. So that’s how it started, and I was there for 4 years.
It's not like one day that I woke up and decided to start a business. I was working for 4 years learning all the basics in food service then left there not knowing what I would do next. Paul was starting Monahan's fish market and he and I were friends. I didn’t wake up with an epiphany, I have a lot of epiphanies. I didn’t wake up and say, “I want to do this!” I was far less certain. Like you, I can over think everything. I worry about things a lot. Worrying, It’s very unproductive. It’s the biggest waste of energy.
When writing a 5 year vision for yourself, there is no right or wrong answer. For more information on how to try the visioning exercise click here.
me: when I sat down to do my visioning, It was a daunting thing! What if what I write doesn’t come true, what if I fail miserably, what if my vision changes?
Ari: Those are the voices, I mean I can totally relate, I have the same problem, that's where I was at, but it just works better when you know where you wanna go. And there's no right or wrong answer. I just came to believe we all know what we want in our hearts, and sometimes the voices are really strong. We are trained to want what we think we should“want” in a list of categories like medicine or law, not that they are bad things, but they are not good categories. Who cares what you want to do? Maybe you just want to learn a lot, travel, and have fun. You can contribute to society as teacher, a researcher... there's a thousand ways you can do it. It's not like you have 10 choices and you have to choose, there's a plethora of ways you can live the life you want to live.
With the visioning practice you’re writing a story but it's your story and your future. It allows you to write about the things you care about. And if you don’t care about your job title-you leave it out. I could have ended up in 10 different industries but achieved the same things. People graduate and have the pressure of figuring out what they want to do.
me: oh god like those family dinners post graduation and your uncle is like, “so what are you going to do, what are your plans…?”
Ari: that's when you say something outrageous like, “I’m going to go to Tanzania and live in a cave in rural mountains.
me: I uh, think they’d shit themselves.
Ari: Then you say, “Just kidding!” then anything you say afterwards will seem so good.
me: what’s your advice for ignoring those voices during the visioning process?
Ari: The hot pen process is basically when you write as fast as you can about anything that comes to mind. You can swear up a storm but you can’t stop writing so your brain can’t keep up. It's like riding a bike, when you feel like you’re about to fall you innately know to just pedal faster.
It's work, and learning to hear your own voice and knowing the difference between your's and other's. I’m still there, it's never really gone, the fear. but you just get better at pushing them away.
Don't ask, "How am I going to be successful?" the better questions is, “What is the life I want to create.” and that doesn’t have to be a job or a career.
The power of time management. Every minute you waste you can't get back.
It is an investment. Time is not money, money you can always make back, time you can’t. “How you live your day is how you live your life”. I would rather spend one hour getting up earlier and deal with the struggle of not staying in bed than sacrifice one hour I could be doing something. If you just get up one hour earlier for the next 5 years thats 1800 hours you had time to do something. Most people complain about how much time they don’t have to do something but that time used complaining is time they could have been doing that thing.
If we are in a bad mood, if we are tired, and we aren’t mindful of our behaviors we slip. And when you act sourly to another, you ruin their day, they go out and that dictates how they act to another and another. It's a cascade effect. Now if we become more mindful, we realize the impact of the little things and the little things are really what matter.
The means that we use must be connected to the ends that we want to achieve. If you want to have a life filled with kindness and joy, you aren’t going to get there by stepping on people.
Final Ari advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: Just do it.
Its easy to say to yourself then just do it. Your strengths lead your weaknesses.
It feels really risky but it really isn’t. You’re young, you’re smart, you can work hard. The odds of you really blowing it are really low, but the odds of you doing what everyone else wants you to do and being unhappy are not that low. They all have their advice but in the end it's not their life.