Meet Paul Saginaw

Co-Founder of Zingerman’s and Catersource Keynote Speaker

Launching a business is a challenge. Scaling and keeping it thriving for close to 40 years, with 750 employees and $60 million in revenue is a true feat, and one that any business can learn from.

Founded as a single-location deli in Ann Arbor in 1982, the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses is now comprised of 11 enterprises. The vision that created by Zingerman’s Deli founders Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig is globally recognized by innovation, culture, and creativity.

A Ted-talk-style keynote at Catersource’s Opening General Session on Sunday evening, February 24, and also offering a longer deep dive the next day, Saginaw will discuss workplace culture and Zingerman’s method of open book financial reporting

Paul Saginaw, Catersource keynote speaker

Paul is also one of the judges in the inaugural Catersource Future Star competition this year, helping the next generation of restaurants, event planners, and caterers by sharing his wisdom. Here is a small helping of his insights to get you started!

Business lessons

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the catering business today?

“Sit down with a blank sheet of paper and imagine you are floating above your business on a magic carpet, and envision what success would look like. What will the customer say about you? What will you offer? Write in the future tense as if it’s already happened. With all your heart, give yourself over to that vision.”

How have you kept your business partnership healthy for these many years?

“I met co-founder Ari when I was working as the manager of a restaurant and Ari was working as a dishwasher,” Saginaw says. “We have worked together for 37-plus years. After several other career moves, we decided to open a deli together. Healthy partnerships depend on a shared set of values and a shared vision—agreeing on what success looks like for the organization. We both believe in the quality of our organization, quality of life, and quality of the relationship. We both respect what the other has brought to the relationship. A relationship is like any living thing and can withstand a lot of things, but it can’t survive neglect. We have a commitment to each other to stay at the table, even during those moments when one of us can’t stand the other. Assume good intentions. Start out with trust.”

Unique and colorful branding is just one of the Zingerman’s many hallmarks. This graphic accompanies information about Open Book Management, a topic at the core of Saginaw's talk at Catersource 2019. Credit: Zingerman’s

What is Zingerman's process for innovation? How do you build a culture of creativity and trust?

“We have an extensive training and orientation program. Every single employee gets a two-hour one-on-one class and discussion with me or Ari. It begins with a thank you to the employee for making the right decision. Every employee is told ‘We need you more than you need us.’ We don’t make or sell anything that anyone else can’t do. What distinguishes us is our set of guiding principles. All our leaders have to model that behavior.”

What would you consider your best-ever business decision? Your worst? Why?

“Being successful in business is learning from a series of failures. I learn something every day. What you learn and how you act is cumulative. Above all, always watch your margins.”

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The journey and the future

Any regrets throughout your career?

“Balancing work and family is always tough. Now that my sons are 35 and 30 and have their own record label, they sometimes come to me for advice and I’m able to make up for some of that lost time.”

If you weren't in your current business, what would you want to do with your life?

“I’d be part of an organization or community where I was delivering social good. Or, I could sell used exotic cars (one of my passions) or work in the non-profit [sector].”

What will transform the catering industry the most over the next five years?

“People have different dietary restrictions, so any company that can meet this variety of needs will have a point of difference. People used to pay more attention just to the venue and décor, but they now want good food, delivered to them in more creative ways. Food safety is also becoming a priority, especially when feeding large numbers of people.”

How do you stay smart about changes in your industry?

I read voraciously—all types of publications—and ask myself ‘How is this relevant to me?’ I go out in the world a lot to see what’s happening.”

Stay smart about changes in the catering industry—and learn more from Paul by attending Catersource 2019!

Nancy A. Shenker

Founder/CEO | theONswitch

Nancy A. Shenker is Founder/CEO of theONswitch marketing and a professional content strategist, writer, and speaker.

She has spent more than  30 years in the events, food, retail, and small business worlds, focused on delivering meaningful and memorable experiences and bottom-line results.

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