DSA Paul Saginaw & Ari Weinzweig

Paul Saginaw & Ari Weinzweig

Paul Saginaw, Ari Weinzweig, Food Gatherers

Distinguished Service Awards
October 15, 2014

Thank you, Past President Len and President Karen.

Once upon a time there were two smart, young men who worked hard and shared a vision.  While students at the University of Michigan, they studied, worked, and dreamed of food—particularly delicious corned beef sandwiches on rye.   The young man from Chicago earned a degree in Russian History, and the young man from Detroit earned a BS in Zoology—it only took 8 years!  The two young graduates met while washing dishes and waiting tables at Maude’s—a former Ann Arbor restaurant.  They dreamed of owning their own business—a restaurant.  Not just any business and not just any restaurant.  It had to be an amazing New York-style deli offering the world’s most spectacular corned beef sandwiches—and it had to be a business with heart and soul.

In 1982, those two wise young men borrowed $20,000, rented a small, red-brick building in Kerrytown, hired two people to make those delicious sandwiches—and began to fulfill their dream.  As the sandwich list grew, the business grew, and their deli—Zingerman’s Deli, became world famous.  They dreamed new dreams, and within a decade, they began to create exciting new opportunities for other people to do what they had done.   Based on an innovative model, they developed a plan—a vision for the future. New partnerships were formed, and new businesses were launched—all under the ‘Zingerman’s Community of Businesses’ umbrella.

Business experts advised them to franchise the deli.   Lawyers and accountants told them they were crazy to let new partners have real ownership and run the new companies as separate businesses.  But the two wise young men held to their vision and continued to build a culture of sharing great food and great openness. They believed, ‘There’s no place like home’ and gave other young men and women a chance to live their dreams.

Grateful for their success, they gave back in many other ways.  They volunteered in the community and donated food to non-profit agencies and shelters.  One day, one of the young men realized that they could feed hungry people in a more efficient and strategic way if they gathered perishable food from all of the restaurants and markets in the county.  Their families and friends supported the plan.  A few days before Thanksgiving in 1988, volunteers borrowed a van, collected 50 pounds of vegetables, bread, milk and eggs from half a dozen grocery stores and restaurants, and quickly redistributed the food to hot meal programs in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Food Gatherers was born.

Today, Food Gatherers is an independent, 501(c)3 organization.  1,500 volunteers prepare and serve over 100,000 meals annually to people in need. ( Their headquarters at One Carrot Way features a gathering farm, training center, and the largest refrigerator/freezer I have ever seen!  You will have an opportunity to see it at 6 p.m. today!)   Under the strong leadership of Eileen Spring, the dedicated staff, board and volunteers work hard to provide safe, nutritionally valuable food to everyone in need.  They are committed to the ideal of a world in which all people have food, shelter, meaningful work, dignity and freedom.

The two young men are now older and wiser, but just as committed, caring and passionate.  They built their business with integrity, common values, and a shared vision, within a culture of service and trust.   They still make a spectacular corned beef sandwich—and the business has more heart and soul than they could ever have imagined.  The Zingerman’s Community of Businesses now has 19 partners, employs over 750 people, and generates over $55 million in annual sales from nine separate businesses. 

In April, 1995, Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig received the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County’s first Humanitarian Award for their community contributions.  In 2007, they were presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award from Bon Appetit magazine for their work in the food industry.

They continue to support Food Gatherers, as well as numerous other non-profit organizations in Washtenaw County.  

Robert F. Kennedy once said,  

“The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.”

Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, thank you for making things better for us and for so many other people in our community.  The dreams that you dared to dream really did come true!

On behalf of the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor, it is my privilege to present three Distinguished Service Awards today—the highest honor bestowed by the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor.  These awards are also accompanied by a Paul Harris Fellowship.

One is presented to the Food Gatherers organization—the Staff, Board, and Volunteers, in recognition of extraordinary service, dedication, and commitment to alleviating hunger in our community since 1988.  You exemplify the ideals of Rotary.  “Service Above Self” 

The other awards are presented to two remarkable, wise and forever-young men, Paul Saginaw, and Ari Weinzweig, in recognition of exceptional leadership, dedication and service to Food Gatherers, your profession, and our community.  You exemplify the ideals of Rotary. “Service Above Self”

Paul, Ari, Eileen, Lori and Food Gatherers team, please join me at the podium to accept your awards.  - Presented by Patricia Garcia