Lessons Learned: Build Something, Ari Weinzweig

I looked up from my pimento mac & cheese and noticed one of the most innovative and respected business leaders in America was refilling my water glass.

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We were passing through Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, and Doug and I used yelp to find a place to eat. One of the first results was Zingerman’s Roadhouse.zingermans roadhouse

Zingerman’s is a collection of businesses that began with a small deli. Ari Weinzweig, along with Paul Saginaw, opened the deli before I was born (1978). Their unique approach to expansion and growth has led to a diverse set of interrelated businesses that employ more than 500 people in the Ann Arbor area.

I immediately made a reservation on my phone and continued to read about the Roadhouse menu. The Food Network’s Alton Brown calls it the “Best mac and cheese with a twist” in America and named it one of the country’s top 10 comfort foods.

Clearly we were going to enjoy our meal. After passing the Roadshow Drive up food truck outside, we entered the roadhouse and were sat right away.

drive up

Surrounded by an unrivaled collection of salt and pepper shakers lining the walls,

shakers

our server, Alex, began to suggest his favorites.

I told Doug that I loved Ari Weinzweig. I stumbled across him after listening to Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s Splendid ice cream, cite him as a favorite leader. I watched a few videos about Ari’s 12 Natural Laws of Business and emailed Ari to thank him for the insight and perspective. His responses to me were personal, specific, and thoughtful. I explained to Doug that this made him a leadership role model in my eyes. Particularly Ari’s approach to visioning and its power to lead to success. Doug encouraged me to email Ari and tell him I’m eating at his restaurant.

Our Mac and cheese arrived and did not disappoint. I began typing out a quick email about being at the roadhouse. I had no later hit “send” than my water was being filled. Doug started asking questions of the busboy related to the Drive up Roadshow food truck when I looked up and realized Ari Weinzweig himself was filling my water.

“Ari! I was just telling Doug here about how we emailed last year and we HAD to come to Zingermans. Here you are filling my water!”

To Doug, this looked like a crazy fan annoying a rock star. But for me, Ari is a rock star. Ari himself is very humble and would probably wish to shed the celebrity status, but I am inspired by Zingerman’s example and Ari’s leadership specifically.

Ari pouring water on a busy Saturday night is an example of avoiding what Mike Figliuolo of thoughtleadersllc.com refers to as “sloth” one of the 7 deadly sins of leadership. Mike’s point is that every great leader rolls up his/her sleeves and gets dirty. By bussing tables and filling water glasses, Ari gets to see from a “front line” view the challenges of his staff and the voices of his customers. Nothing substitutes setting an example and being there when it counts.

ari

Ari, thank you for being there for me that evening. I have been raving about the Roadhouse ever since.

talk to you soon,

Daniel

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*not my pumpkin

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