In Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon, Ari Weinzweig—co-founder of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, which includes a deli, restaurant, bakery and cheese maker in Ann Arbor, Mich.—sings the praises of cured pork belly. Zingerman’s is selling a record number of memberships to its monthly Bacon Club, and Weinzeig says “pretty much everybody connected to the food world has got the bacon bug.” The author, business owner and bacon lover tries to explain why bacon seems to have such a hold on eaters, and also offers some advice for booksellers on surviving the recession.
PW: Why do you think bacon has become so popular lately?
AW: It’s a very interesting subject and there’s lots to learn about it. And I think it tastes really good, with a very delicious, intriguing flavor. It also has an attractive, appealing scent. Most people know that they love bacon but they don’t really know much about it. I would like to share those stories and help them understand. For instance, there are huge differences from one [kind of bacon] to the next. There’s one in the book from Kentucky that’s not smoked, and it’s a big part of central Kentucky cooking. And then you’ve got Vande Rose, applewood smoked, dry cured....
PW: What’s your favorite bacon right now?
PW: How is Zingerman’s holding up in this economy?
AW: Our experience is that the economy’s often been bad. We opened in 1982, when interest rates were 18%. We’re in Michigan, which has not had any boom years that I know of in our 27 years of business. Of course it impacts us. Is it hard? Yes. But it was also hard three years ago when wheat prices tripled. 9/11 was very difficult. We’ve never taken anything for granted. We’ve never assumed anybody would continue doing business with us, so we keep giving them reasons to come back.
PW: What’s working for you?
AW: We’re improving our service quality and training employees more aggressively. We’re really open to whatever kind of strange, interesting, quirky customer requests we might get. That’s what we normally do, but we’re trying to be even more open. If somebody comes in and they want a half a slice of bacon cooked, we’re going to do it. And if they want to sit at a table, we’re going to do it. At the Roadhouse, our sales are a little up over last year. People sit at a table, share a burger and have a couple of Cokes. I’m honored they’re choosing to come to us. When the economy’s better they’ll get their own burgers. But right now you have to be pleased and honored that they’ve chosen to come to us.
Weinzweig’s other books include Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating: How to Choose the Best Bread, Cheeses, Olive Oil, Pasta, Chocolate, and Much More (Houghton Mifflin, 2003) and Zingerman's Guide to Giving Great Service (Hyperion, 2004).
This story originally appeared in Cooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.