Gameday Grubs Big Ten Edition | Zingerman’s Serving Sandwiches to Michigan Football Fans for Generations

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Posters hang at Zingermans Deli in Ann Arbor, Mich. on September 8, 2023. Unique artwork can be found all around the resturant and deli. Photo by Kalin Sipes

Animated pickles hang from the ceiling and giant bags of chips sit in the window. Zingerman’s is decorated floor-to-ceiling with unique art. What started as just a deli and grocery store has grown to incorporate several different businesses. The character, food and proximity to campus makes this restaurant a game day staple for University of Michigan fans. 

University of Michigan student Brady McKillop shares, “I feel like Ziingerman’s is the University of Michigan restaurant. I feel like when you talk to people about restaurants in Ann Arbor, that’s the first one that comes to everyone’s mind.” 

Zingerman’s was founded by Paul Saginaw and Arnie Weinzweig, two Michigan students, nearly forty years ago in 1982. One was from Chicago and the other from Detroit- they realized there was not an authentic Jewish deli in Ann Arbor, so they founded Zingerman’s to fill the gap. The deli has expanded to include a sandwich shop, cafe and other businesses since then. Not only do football fans get their Zingerman’s fix in store, but the deli also caters to several tailgates. 

“It’s crazy busy on game days. People will be coming in for food or maybe to pick up their catering order. We’ll have lots of people who come from Ohio or Illinois once we get into the Big 10 season. We have alumni who are coming back and are nostalgic for their Zingerman’s experience. Then people who are just affiliated with the football experience,” said Jennifer Santi, communications director for Zingerman’s.

On an average day, the wait for a sandwich will be 15-25 minutes. On a game day, the wait can be as long as two hours. According to staff, people have no problem waiting. Serving groups upwards of 200 for tailgates and managing the in-person demand, staff are accustomed to the gameday rush. 

Working at Zingerman’s for nearly 100 Michigan football games, Gabe Carlson shares, “People are having fun and come in expecting fun. We’ve done this a few times, as a team. We know what the demands are going to be, and we know that we’re ready for it.” 

Serving several types of sandwiches, there is a menu item for most people. The most popular sandwich is Zingerman’s Rueben.

Painted sandwiches, desserts, drinks and deli items greet customers as soon as they enter the store. Unique jellies, jams and breads are for sale, stacked on shelves that fill the deli. The art has been a part of the deli since it opened. 

Santi shares, “We started that creative effort 40 years ago. There were just people on staff that had talent who began to create the Zingerman’s feel. There was a person on staff who worked at the meat counter. He would doodle on butcher paper and hang it up. We credit him for the whole art style.”

With artwork that changes periodically, patrons will be in for a surprise every visit. However, some things will stay the same, including the trademarked Zingerman’s font.

“My memory as a kid of Ann Arbor was the Big House and Zingerman’s. We would get a sandwich from Zingerman’s everytime we went to a Michigan football game. It was definitely something to look forward to,” said Michigan student Lindsay Budin.

Many University of Michigan students tell a similar story. They went to Zingerman’s with their family when attending football games at the Big House and now as students, Zingerman’s is a familiar treat.

While there’s no official partnership, Zingerman’s is aware of the relationship.

Sant shares, “We take the relationship with the university very seriously. We’re intertwined with students, faculty, staff and, of course, the football games. We are successful in part because of the university.” 

If ever catching a game at the Big House, Zingerman’s is highly recommended. Fans from the opposing team will often find their way to Zingerman’s as well. The staff will serve everyone- even Ohio state fans.  

For those in Las Vegas who want a taste of Zingerman’s, Saginaw founded an unaffiliated restaurant that can be found at Circa Hotel and Casino on Fremont Street called Saginaw’s Deli.

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