Twenty-five years ago, Zingerman’s Community of Businesses first debuted its Bakehouse. After having succeeded with its flagship business, Zingerman’s Delicatessen, they wanted to make the move to artisan bread. The group asked former business partner Frank Carollo to open a bakery with them. After much discussion, research, and training, the partners introduced Zingerman’s Bakehouse to Ann Arbor, Michigan, in September 1992.
That date has special significance now, as Zingerman’s Bakehouse will be celebrating its silver anniversary in September. Frank Carollo, who is the managing partner at the bakery along with Amy Emberling, will kick off the festivities with parties and promotions, which culminates in the release of a cookbook that encapsulates the Zingerman’s Bakehouse experience.
Zingerman’s Bakehouse, which will be released by Chronicle Books on October 3, will be filled with 65 tested, detailed recipes, many that have never been shared before. The recipes will be accompanied by color photos, behind-the-scenes stories, and iconic illustrations from Zingerman’s own in-house artists.
“Although we’d been considering writing a book for years, the stars finally aligned for us to have the time and inspiration to accomplish it by our 25th anniversary,” says Amy Emberling. “It was a perfect exercise in reflection and storytelling for this momentous year.”
The managing partners have seen plenty of changes in the baking world in the past 25 years. Local grains have become an important part of bread making, and Zingerman’s now works with regional farmers in northern Michigan and central Ohio to acquire local grains. The Bakehouse even looked into milling its own grains in the next few years.
From a customer perspective, they believe transparency has become such a vital aspect of the baking industry. This is something that wasn’t prolific back in 1992 but has grown over time. Zingerman’s Bakehouse has dedicated itself to customer education, becoming a pioneer in training the public how to bake bread.
“We have been fortunate to be doing what we do for a living. Baked goods seem to really connect people to a place and time that makes them remember good things. We wanted to give people in the 21st century the joy and skills that we feel like we’ve developed so that they could share in that experience,” says Frank Carollo.
Through its ‘BAKE!’ hands-on teaching classes, Zingerman’s seeks to preserve baking traditions and inspire new ones. Dozens of classes are offered, giving students the opportunity to thrive in areas such as fondant, cakes, cookies, breads, pastries, pies, and even traditional Hungarian foods that Zingerman’s specializes in providing to the Ann Arbor community.
“I guess we believed from the start that it is hard work, so some of the people who took the classes would realize that it was difficult to do, which in turn makes them happy to pay for that loaf of bread instead of baking that themselves. We also believed that it would appeal to people who wouldn’t want to buy our products, but who would want to learn that craft and be able to do it in their homes. It would increase our exposure and not jeopardize our business,” says Carollo.
Zingerman’s also excels in its business structure. Individual managing partners run their respective divisions, including at the Bakehouse. The advantage is that it has real owners in the business, which motivates and keeps the partners committed to their areas.
Bread is the big focus for the Bakehouse. Artisan bread making in the United States has come a long way just in the past 25 years, and Zingerman’s has been an influential leader in raising the quality of bread that is served to consumers today.
“When we started, most consumers didn’t even know anything about artisan bread. Even just defining that word for people was important,” says Amy Emberling.
“Most interestingly, the big manufacturers use that word now. The challenge of the marketplace is that we had to distinguish ourselves from them. They follow the letter of the law when it comes to artisan bread making, but not the spirit, so we have to explain the difference between what we’re doing and the bread in the grocery store that is less expensive but is parbaked and maybe doesn’t have the flavor that ours has,” she says.
A big part of Zingerman’s product success is that it was well ahead of everyone when it comes to sourcing premium, natural ingredients. The bakery has concentrated on this aspect of production from the beginning, which has allowed it to adapt to the rise in public awareness of food health. The Zingerman’s Bakehouse book will put a special focus on how these premium, natural ingredients have improved their recipes, including one featured here.