Ari's Top 5

In the end, what’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships. Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.

—Danny Meyer


A Look at Turning First-Time Guests into Lifetime Loyalists

Clarity, mystery, and the reality of judging books by their covers

I can’t remember which of the many Zingerman’s meetings or huddles I heard it in, but I do know that it caught my attention. I immediately wrote down the words, and now, here they are, showing up as the entrée to this essay. The comment went something like this:

We’re getting a lot of first-time guests lately, which means that people are traveling again.
To be clear, for most of our 40-plus years in business, this trend would hardly have been noteworthy. A big piece of what has made the economics and the energy of what the world knows as the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses work for all these years is that we have a fairly healthy mix of regulars and first-time guests. This pattern is, in good part, the nature of being in Ann Arbor, a nationally-known university town. Each year, new students come to our small community in southeastern Michigan for school. New faculty, new coaches, and new companies starting up arrive regularly, as well. Throughout the year parents and kids (aka, prospective students) come through to visit the various colleges. Concerts, football crowds, art fairs, academic conferences, recruiting trips, and the like get us additional first-time guests. To that, you can add everyone who logs on for the first time from some faraway place in order to buy from Mail Order, make a reservation at the Roadhouse or Miss Kim, book some training at ZingTrain, or explore going on a Zingerman’s Food Tour. Having given it more thought in the last few weeks, I’d be surprised if we go more than a couple of minutes without a first-time guest coming in one way or another.

Had the statement about first-time visitors to the ZCoB come up in 2019, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. We’ve always had a lot of first-time guests. What made this particular comment interesting to me, though, was the pandemic. In the past few years, travel was radically reduced, and consequently, so too were the number of first-time customers coming to town. The fact that people are “back” is enormously encouraging. It made me smile the way I do when I see blueberries growing after a part of the forest has burned, bringing a bit of beauty back to the landscape.

This time though, the comment got me thinking. Although we’re particularly mindful of the need to give a special sort of service to first-time guests, and we likely do better on this front than most in our industry, there’s still much more that we could be doing. While first impressions aren’t everything, they are inordinately important. Much bigger than one would think from the infrequency with which the subject is generally discussed in the business world. Given that each new customer could, on the one hand, turn into a lifelong loyalist, or conversely be lost to us for life, that first interaction is hugely important. The health of the Zingerman’s Community in ten years will, in great part, depend on how well we treat the first-time guests who will be coming in this week.

Anytime I think of first impressions, I’m almost immediately reminded of my mother’s anecdotal admonition “not to judge a book by its cover.” Nearly everyone will likely have heard something similar growing up. And while, intellectually, nearly all of us get the idea, the reality is many of us (me definitely included) still go right ahead and do it anyway. In a literal sense, I buy a lot of books (and records), and to this day I remain far more influenced by the quality of their covers than I would like to admit. I might flip through too to read the first couple of pages to get a feel for what their tone seems to be like, but still, fair or not, first impressions have an outsized influence on how I proceed.

Chip Kidd’s vocation is the exact opposite of what my mother advised. He’s all about making first impressions count. In fact, he gets paid to do it: Chip Kidd designs book covers. Born in Berks County, Pennsylvania, Kidd earned his degree from Penn State and has gone on to have a storied career in graphic design. He’s also authored a wide range of his own books, and he even started a rock band. Kidd has done award-winning covers for an array of amazing authors, including Haruki Murakami (who I referenced about T-shirts a few weeks ago—read on for more on a special T-shirt offer). In essence, Kidd makes his living by crafting creative and highly effective first impressions. About which, he offers:
First impressions are the key to how we perceive the world and are perceived by it. They are our introductions to everything: acquaintances, the workplace, products, experiences, retail stores, the Internet, entertainment, relationships, design. And based on our first impressions, we judge things.
“Judging” is exactly what first-time guests are engaged in doing when they have their first contact with our businesses. Or yours. That engagement could occur in person, online, on the phone, or on social media. It might be a visit that takes less than two minutes while grabbing a coffee or buying a loaf of bread. It could happen over the course of a couple of hours while dining at Miss Kim, the Roadhouse, or the Deli. It might come when someone books a wedding at Cornman Farms, signs up for training at ZingTrain, or by deciding to go on a Zingerman’s Food Tour. In each case, for a first-time guest, a lot is hanging on this introductory experience.

The power of each of these first-time interactions, when we’re really paying attention, is inspiring. We could well be at the beginning of a long-term, even life-changing, relationship. Coincidentally, this amazing message went up on Facebook while I was working on this piece:
I still remember my first sandwich from Zingerman's in 1982… BLT on challah with real Hellman's mayonnaise and a new pickle. I was 14 and I fell in love. I introduced my son to Zingerman's finally when he was 14 and he decided he had to move to Michigan on that same trip. Seven years later, and he did just that. He had Thanksgiving and Hanukkah dinners from Zingerman's this year … ordered for him long-distance by me. You helped me help my son have a happy holiday so far from family. Here's to another 40 years and new generations falling in love with Zingerman's.
So much came out of that first visit. A lifetime customer was created. A kid moved to Ann Arbor. Many Zingerman’s visits—in person and online—have ensued. Plans are being made for more Zingerman’s experiences still to come. These great outcomes, though, were not guaranteed. Had this first-time guest’s experience been only average—or worse still, suboptimal—we likely would have lost them for life back in 1982. The critical nature of this customer service pivot point is really what got me reflecting on just how critical each first-time guest’s experience really is. It might be something that happens in a matter of mere minutes, but the possible outcomes couldn’t be further apart. Which is why, when I think about this intensely, the significance of what might go right or wrong on someone’s first encounter with our organization is more than a bit intimidating for me.

Of course, since day one, we’ve been committed to delivering great experiences. We always want a visit to Zingerman’s to be awesome, and we need it to be even better than that for first-time visitors who are often judging our entire 40 years of hard work on what happens in their first few minutes with us. As my longtime friend, author, and restaurateur Danny Meyer says, “There’s no point for me … to work every day for the purpose of offering guests an average experience."

Chip Kidd offers what I think is an effective, two-part recipe for all of us to follow along with:
I’ve found that the two most effective and fascinating aspects of first impressions—both the ones I create and those I encounter—are at opposite ends of the spectrum: Clarity and Mystery. After over thirty years as a practicing designer, I continue to be amazed by how these two components work, and what happens when they get mixed up or misused.
Kidd captures clarity and mystery terrifically well with his book covers, and I think his approach offers us a good frame for our work with first-time guests. First, new customers need a fair amount of clarity. Arriving as strangers in the strange land that is Zingerman’s, feeling some combination of anxious and excited as they try to figure out what’s going on around them, people understandably seek confidence that they’re going to get a good meal and a great experience. Most first-time visitors want to know who they’re dealing with. They need a quick verbal “tour” of what Zingerman’s is about, what we do, a short synopsis of our history, and maybe a few minutes of informal insight into our philosophy of food and business. To help them, we need to be clear in our word choices (no technical terminology without explanation), accurate in our timing, clear in our pricing, and our expectations. We need to, in a dignity-based way, explain what Tellicherry pepper is or why freshly-milled grain would make that much of a difference.

And then, as Chip Kidd suggests, we also want to bring a bit of mystery. Unexpected twists and experiential turns that will delight in wonderfully memorable ways. It might be by serving flavors that are deeper, more complex, and more delicious than many first-time guests have experienced elsewhere. It could be what we call “extra miles”—small, unexpected acts of generosity that enhance a guest’s experience with free tastes, additional information, etc. It might be a “second person in” (someone other than the service provider themselves) swinging by, calling, or emailing just to say hi and welcome them to the ZCoB. It could be a little gift that our new guest can go home with. Small things like this always make a big difference, and their power is magnified many times over with first-time clients.

Writer Charles Baxter, who lived here in town for years and now teaches in Minneapolis, says something similar to Chip Kidd. In Charles' case though, it’s not just about the cover, but rather the beginnings of what’s written inside the book. It’s the literary equivalent of what happens when someone walks in the Deli’s front door for the first time, or comes to Miss Kim knowing little about traditional Korean food. As Charles says,
If a story is going to be any good, it has to tell the truth about a situation and not just amaze or shock us. The trigger has to take us to a core of meaningful action that’s worth our time. A story turns on a light; beauty and truth are its illuminated products.
If we do our work well, the first few minutes of a first-time guest’s interaction with us should “turn on the light.” What they experience right after that, I hope, will be a quick, and effectively delivered bit of (always imperfect) service that will shine a metaphorical light on a little Zingerman’s beauty and truth.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, first-time guests are beginning to put together their own “book” on Zingerman’s from the minute they begin interacting with us. This book will be based on their sense of who we are and how well we do what we do, weighted, far more often than not, by the quality of their initial experience. If it’s a really rewarding first visit, the cover they create for it will be catchy, and the first few pages will be attention getting in the best possible way. If we do our work really well over time, they just might write a love story like the social media post I shared above, a story with a happy ending that concludes many decades down the road. They might then, if they become loyal fans, go out and tell many others about our work. We all know that word of mouth remains the most effective form of marketing. As poet Ada Limon says, “That’s the sign of a good book … when you can hear the pages turning.”

If the customer service story I was writing here was merely a fantasy, we would get this first-time-guest thing right, religiously, every single time. But of course, we’re human, and this is far easier to write about than to make happen. First time visitors sometimes show up at “inopportune times.” Someone might come for breakfast all the way from Boston, but happens to arrive when our morning has gotten off to a bad start. I’m well aware that we’ve been succeeding and failing, often simultaneously, every day since March 15 of 1982. Even figuring out, in the moment, who among the many guests that come in each day is a first-time customer can be tricky. It takes a staff member who’s trained and tuned in to notice the difference in tone of voice between a long-time regular and the hesitant, halting questions that come from first-timers. It could be a lack of confidence in the way they look when they walk in the front door for the first time, or a slight awkwardness that accompanies the questions they’re asking. If we don’t pick up on these small signs quickly, we can miss the moment. In the context of what I wrote in Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service, this can be a quiet, but critical, “Moment of Truth.” They aren’t just deciding to buy a loaf of bread or a brownie; they’re, often unconsciously, weighing whether or not they’re going to “buy into Zingerman’s.” When we fall short with a long-time loyal customer, it’s still not good, but after many years of positive experiences, they are more likely to give us the benefit of the doubt. The other day we got a complaint that began, “I’ve been coming in for over 25 years …” I can almost guarantee that a first-time customer who had the same experience would not even have written to say anything. Nor would they be likely to return.

To do this work well, each first-time guest’s customer experience must, by definition, be tailored to their needs and wants, and to the particulars of their situation, on that particular day. I’m always mindful that everyone’s experience and interests and desires are different, and that the same person might have wanted something totally different had they come last Sunday than they will if they arrive for the first time later today. A long flight delay on the way here can radically alter the way we need to work with a guest, all the more so when it’s their first time talking to a ZCoB staffer or tasting our food. With that in mind, it’s clear to me that we will want to pull all of the elements of the organizational ecosystem into the guest’s initial experience. To begin each encounter with positive beliefs; increase hope levels; and act with generosity, compassion, kindness, and creative connections. We will do best when we and the guest have a shared vision of what their experience will be like. A big part of what will make any new visitor’s experience a positive one is the effective practice of the six elements of the revolution of dignity. Guests who feel they are treated with dignity are, quite simply, much more likely to come back. It’s absolutely about love and positive energy. Psychologist Dacher Keltner says “Emotion is the source of a meaningful life.” If we want to contribute meaningfully to the lives of our customers, then we must make meaningful emotional connections. And with first-time guests, they need to be made quickly.

I got to know Will Guidara over the course of the pandemic. While hardly anyone was traveling, he and I and a few hundred other restaurant folks were gathering on Zoom as part of the newly-established Independent Restaurant Coalition, working as advocates in Washington for the needs of independently-owned restaurants like ours. Will has a new book out entitled Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More Than They Expect. It has a nice cover, and a lot of good, customer-service-focused content that’s very much aligned with what we have long been teaching here in the ZCoB. As a child, Will recalls going, for the first time, to the Four Seasons for a special meal with his dad. The quality of that experience changed his life:
The restaurant cast a spell I was all too happy to be enchanted by. It put the world on pause, so that everything else fell away; the only thing that existed for me, for those two and a half hours, was what was in that room. … That night, I learned that a restaurant could create magic, and I was hooked.
Magic like this is not, to be clear, customer service that’s staged and scripted out to a “T.” That may sound good at corporate headquarters, but it’s inauthentic and, ultimately, ineffective. The now nearly automatic discount code one gets by setting up an account on a website (the discount is perfectly welcome, but it’s not very magical) or new staff repeating the same prescribed lines over and over again come to mind as obvious examples. Magic, by contrast, is what Will felt at the Four Seasons. It’s what you feel when a whole host of things come together in ways you’ve never before experienced, and leave you smiling and shaking your head with wonder and awe. By definition, making magic in this way requires a great blend of strong systems and creative spontaneity. Our 3 Steps to Great Service and 5 Steps to Handling a Customer Complaint (detailed in the Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service, cover done by Ian Nagy) I believe work well because they create exactly that kind of combination. The 3 Steps and the 5 Steps are what we call “Organizational Recipes” (see “Secret #3”)—constructs that offer needed structure for new staff and also leave them room to respond as needed to each situation and draw on their creativity to make some really cool, magical experiences happen. Magic, in this context, could mean a handwritten card tucked in with an order or a thank you note sent a week later. In the spirit of human interaction and being emotionally engaged, it could be an experience of empathy on a hard day. As Will Guidara writes:
When you work in hospitality—and I believe that whatever you do for a living, you can choose to be in the hospitality business—you have the privilege of joining people as they celebrate the most joyful moment in their lives and the chance to offer them a brief moment of consolation and relief in the midst of their most difficult ones. … Most important, we have an opportunity to—a responsibility —to make magic in a world that desperately needs more of it.
All of this, for me, is a reminder of what I’ve written about here many times—that small actions make a big, big difference. Although it’s easy to feel irrelevant or to slip into apathy, we each have the power to change lives. In the process, we can help write better stories for our businesses, and the people who are impacted by them. Or in the case of Nick Cave, to craft better songs. Cave is best known for his music, but he’s also an insightful, philosophically-focused thinker and writer, as well. The other day, he responded to a listener who shared how helpless he felt to make a difference in his life. Cave’s thoughtful response seemed to sum all this up for me in a touching, truthful, and powerful way:
The everyday human gesture is always a heartbeat away from the miraculous—that ultimately we make things happen through our actions, way beyond our understanding or intention; that our seemingly small ordinary human acts have untold consequences; that what we do in this world means something; that we are not nothing; and that our most quotidian human actions by their nature burst the seams of our intent and spill meaningfully and radically through time and space, changing everything. … our deeds, no matter how insignificant they may feel, are replete with meaning, and of vast consequence, and that they constantly impact upon the unfolding story of the world, whether we know it or not.

As a human being you are infinitely powerful, and take responsibility for this tremendous power. Even our smallest actions have potential for great change, positively or negatively, and the way in which we all conduct ourselves within the world means something. You are anything but impotent, you are, in fact, exquisitely and frighteningly dynamic, as are we all, and with all respect you have an obligation to stand up and take responsibility for that potential. It is your most ordinary and urgent duty.
The next time I work with a first-time guest—which might well be a few minutes after I finish proofing this piece—I’ll honor Nick Cave’s call to action by handling those seemingly small, often awkward, interactions with grace and excellence. To remember that whatever else I have going, these first-time interactions, the effectiveness with which we create first impressions, remains, even after 40 years in business, “my most ordinary and urgent duty.” And to keep in mind that the next sandwich or loaf of bread or shot of espresso we serve to someone far younger than me, could well be the beginnings of the mental “book” they write about our organization. If we do it well, they could become a lifetime customer, one who might write to Zingerman’s in 2062 to share just how much that first visit impacted their life.
Study service with us
Looking for more learning about how to greet first-time guests? Check out Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service. We have the service book in Spanish too—Guía De Zingerman’s Para Un Servicio De Excelencia—translated by our long-time customer, Heine Esperon at Babel Linguistics in California. And/or come learn with us for a couple days later this month, on January 30-31, at ZingTrain’s “The Art of Giving Great Service Seminar.”

Keying In on Key Lime Pie

A taste of southern Florida at Zingerman’s Southside

A classic of the Florida Keys that relies on the distinctive juice of the Key Lime, Key Lime Pie became the official state pie of Florida in the summer of 2006. While Florida politics have been rather … controversial in recent years, Key Lime Pie seems like something people could come together around. Most everyone I’ve met seems to love it!

What we now call Key Limes likely originated many centuries ago in Malaysia. They are also known around the world as West Indian Limes, Mexican Limes, Bartender's Limes, or Omani Limes. Culinary historians believe they came to the Americas with Spanish invaders sometime in the 16th century. What’s Cooking in America says, “Key Limes look like confused lemons, as they are smaller than a golf ball with yellow-green skin that is sometimes splotched with brown.” They’re smaller, seedier, and have a much bigger aroma than the much greener and larger Persian Limes you might purchase at the supermarket.

Looking back in culinary history, Key Lime Pie seems somewhat reminiscent of the old British/Colonial American versions of vinegar pie, and also the use of lemon curd, or “lemon cheese” for filling tarts and pies. There are stories of Key Lime Pie being served in the late 19th century, but the first known written recipes don't show up until shortly before WWII in the 1930s. Stella Parks, writing in BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, shares some of the pie's history:

The dessert wasn't created in the Sunshine State, but by the Borden condensed milk company in New York City. Thanks to a wave of advertising by the condensed milk company, the recipe for Magic Lemon Cream Pie most likely made its way to Florida sometime in the 1930s and ’40s. There canny pie makers modified the recipe, swapping lemons for Key West's sweet-tart limes.
Southern Living Magazine tells a slightly different story:
Despite the dessert's immediate name recognition, there's certainly no shortage of theories surrounding its origin or its ingredients. No one can pinpoint when lime pie first showed up in the Keys. Developed by early Bahamian settlers, Key lime pie appears to have been around for more than 100 years. Debating the history, though, is child's play compared to the arguments that can erupt over the mechanics of the pie. … You could probably incite a riot discussing Key lime pie's topping and crust…
Wherever you land on all of the above, one thing that’s universally agreed on is that condensed milk is critical to the quality of a Key Lime Pie—essential to its existential being. In its modern canned form, condensed milk is an industrial innovation, but in practice, goes back centuries. The Tatars—the native people of the same Crimean peninsula that’s now front and center in Russia’s violent efforts to take over Ukraine—have records of it in the late 13th century. (Here’s a good essay by Timothy Snyder on the fascinating, often tragic, history of the Crimean Tatars.) Nicolas Appert, the innovative French druggist who was the first to figure out how to effectively can sardines, came up with a way to condense (and preserve) milk early in the 19th century. Gail Borden Jr. figured out an even more effective process and rolled it out commercially in 1853. Previously, fresh milk could not be kept for more than a day or so (other than in the form of cheese). Demand for condensed milk boomed during the Civil War. It became particularly popular in the Florida Keys—being well off the beaten track and far from anyone’s dairy farms, the islands didn’t have a regular supply of fresh milk until the 1930s.

At the Bakehouse, we do indeed use only real Key Lime juice and plenty of condensed milk. The citrusy custard, sitting atop the graham cracker crust, makes for some pretty compelling eating. Serve a slice of Key Lime Pie with whipped cream, if you like. Pick up a whole pie to serve for dinner at your house. You’ll brighten a dark winter day and enjoy some wonderfully tart, sweet, ethereal and excellent eating!

You can get the Bakehouse’s lovely Key Lime Pie at the Bakeshop and Deli.
Claim your piece of the pie
P.S. If you want a bit of music to listen to while you eat, look up Camper Van Beethoven’s classic album, Key Lime Pie. It has an awesome version of Status Quo’s 1968 hit single, “Pictures of Matchstick Men.”

Texas and Tacos and T-Shirts, Oh My!

Roadhouse Catering crew offers up a Texas Breakfast Taco promo

As you might already know, and/or have read about last month, I have a high affinity for great T-shirts. Like the writer Haruki Murakami (who wrote a whole book on T-shirts), I have a lot of them. My situation is much the same as Murakami says of his: “Before I even realized it, the number of T-shirts in my life has skyrocketed, to the point where there is no room in my drawers for them any more.” Amos Arinda did wonderful work here in the ZCoB for many years. He’s quoted in Part 4, Secret #44 about hope. Coincidentally, he was born in Uganda (read on!), but I reference Amos here because he once famously said, “Folks will go a long way around here for a special T-shirt!” That sentiment is still a driver. This great new Texas Taco T-shirt is illustrated by the inspiring Ian Nagy, whose artwork has brought clarity and magic to the ZCoB for well over 30 years now! (The new Texas Taco-shirt is the fourth in the Roadhouse comic-book-style T-shirt series—check out the other three here!) To get this one right now you either need to come work here with us OR order up 20 tacos! I’ve done both—I ordered some tacos to be sent as a surprise gift. I will be wearing my T-shirt later this week!

Like that of Key Lime Pie, the story of tacos is far more complicated than I’d ever imagined. Jeffrey Pilcher, author of Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, posits: “The origins of the taco are really unknown. … The first references [to the taco] in any sort of archive or dictionary come from the end of the 19th century. … the taco is not necessarily this age-old cultural expression; it’s not a food that goes back to time immemorial.” Tacos in the U.S.? Pilcher says they probably came with the children of those migrants who arrived here around that era and tacos spread into Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. Food writer Matthew Sedacca says, “For Austinites of all backgrounds, this iconic breakfast has become a … go-to necessity." Armando Rayo, co-author of Austin Breakfast Tacos and forthcoming The Tacos of Texas, states “It's our version of soul food: good for the soul."

Since the Roadhouse is all about regional American food, Texas Breakfast Tacos were a natural addition to the menu. As with so many other regional classics (pimento cheese, fried cheese curds, sweet potato fries, etc.), we like to spread the word. Even a decade ago they were barely seen outside their home base. As L.V. Anderson wrote in 2013, “Breakfast tacos are a peculiar culinary phenomenon. Despite being pretty much universally popular in Central Texas, and despite comprising accessible American ingredients like bacon and eggs (and despite being delicious), they still haven’t found much of a following beyond Texas’ borders.” Ten years later, we’re making a concerted effort here in Ann Arbor to change that!

Right now, we have three offerings on the menu, in the restaurant, and for this catering promo as well:

1. Bacon and Egg - Scrambled eggs, Nueske’s applewood-smoked bacon, real Monterey Jack from Vella cheese in Sonoma, and the Roadhouse’s spicy mayonnaise on a flour tortilla.

2. Pulled Pork and Eggs - Oak-smoked whole hog barbecue pulled pork, amazing Bianco DiNapoli organic tomatoes, scrambled eggs, fire-roasted New Mexico green chiles, and cilantro on a flour tortilla.

3. Elote taco - Fresh corn, grilled and shucked, mixed with a bit of garlic, fire-roasted New Mexico green chiles, scallions, paprika, cayenne, cilantro, fresh lime juice, Cotija cheese and scrambled eggs on a flour tortilla.

All of which made us want to turn the first few months of 2023 into Texas Breakfast Taco time! Looking to brighten up the start of a shift for your crew? Want to make your next morning meeting more meaningful? Give folks a new reason to drive in to work? Increase productive, positivity, and poetic presence? Texas Breakfast Tacos could do the trick. To paraphrase Homer Simpson’s declaration about donuts, “Breakfast Tacos! Is there anything they can’t do!”

Bottom line? Buy twenty tacos, take home a T-shirt. The tacos will probably be gone in 20 minutes, but you’ll be happily wearing the shirt for many months and years to come.

One warning to share up front: Professor Pilcher says, “The thing about tacos is you always want another one.”

Let's Talk Texas Tacos

Uganda Rwenzori Coffee

Terrific New Coffee of the Month from East Africa

The new Roaster’s Pick from the Coffee Company has been out for only a few days but it’s already winning raves from the ZCoB crew that have tasted it. This new Natural Process Uganda from the Rwenzori Mountains is really remarkable. It comes from an origin that has not historically gotten much attention in the coffee world, but by all rights ought to. Syrupy, bright, with notes of peach and nectarine, and a hint of chocolate or cocoa, you could say, in the finish.

Coffee originated to the north of Uganda in Ethiopia, where it’s grown there for far longer than humans have been consuming it. By contrast, coffee is a relatively recent arrival in Uganda, essentially part of the same colonial push to identify export crops that brought coffee to Central and South America. Today, Uganda produces about 4% of the world’s coffee, tiny by the standards of say, Brazil, but about four times what it was in the early years of the 20th century. The Rwenzori Mountains where these beans are grown are near the country’s western border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and to the north of the Rwandan frontier. You’ll see the mountains on the map about halfway between Lake Stanley and Lake Edward, to the west of Lake Victoria (Africa’s largest lake, and part of the African Great Lakes). While the mountains range up to 16,000 feet, the coffee is grown in the lower (but still high) altitudes in the shade of banana trees, which protect the delicate coffee cherries from “burning” in the sun.

It's not just the geography that’s special. The coffee is a “natural process”—dried in the sun—which concentrates the sweetness and the flavor in a way that I love. Known as “Drugar”—an acronym for “Dried Ugandan Arabica”—these beans are Uganda’s version of the sort of natural process, sun-dried coffee that East Africa is best known for. The coffee cherries are collected as daily lots, handpicked, and then floated in water to remove their pulp, before being set out to dry on mesh racks in a greenhouse. Then they’re turned daily, over an 18 to 20 day drying period in the hot sun. Less than 1% of coffee originating from the Rwenzori Mountains will be processed in this way. The resulting brew, carefully roasted by the Coffee Company crew, is terrifically tasty. It’s very good straight out of urns at the Coffee Company, Roadhouse, and Deli. If you’re at the Coffee Company, it is particularly chocolatey in a pourover and delicate and fine brewed in a siphon pot.

Bag these beans
P.S. Speaking of Uganda, here’s some great new dub music to listen to while you’re sipping some of this amazing coffee: IR63: When Thomas Sankara Met Fela Kuti by caring, creative anarchist friends at Indigenous Resistance. See below for more on their amazing and inspiring work.

Orange Blossom Honey from Southern Italy

Creamy, aromatic, and an amazing way to start your new year

Back in 1938, when written recipes for Key Lime Pie were just starting to appear in print, and shortly after Florida’s most famous writer, Zora Neale Hurston, published her now-classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, a musician by the name of Ervin Rouse published a piece of bluegrass music. Rouse named it for the new super-luxury rail line that had begun running down to Florida. All these years later, “Orange Blossom Special” is one of the best known bluegrass tunes of the 20th century.

This piece here is about a very special Orange Blossom honey, the flavor of which is so fine that it stays in my head as much as the rhythm of Ervin Rouse’s old fiddle tune. Grace Singleton, long-time co-managing partner at the Deli and a BIG lover of traditional honeys, reached out specifically to tell me how darned good this new arrival is. I bought a jar, brought it home, and Tammie has been talking about how terrific it is ever since! I agree with both of these wise women.

For many years now, the folks at Miele Thun have been making it possible for us to try some of THE best tasting honeys in the world. Their business is based in the town of Thun, in the Trentino-Alto-Adige region of northeastern Italy, about halfway between Trento and Bolzano, but they gather old style honeys from all over Italy. This one comes from hives located in the southern half of Italy, reaching all the way from the island of Sardinia in the west across to Puglia in the east. While modern supermarket honey is an industrially innocuous offering—sweet without really having any flavor—old time honeys like this one, traditionally gathered and carefully bottled, are akin to fine wine. Their flavors are complex and compelling; each blossom, each region and each year’s harvest will yield different flavors, aromas, and textures. Great honey, to my taste, is one of the most magical and marvelous foods on the planet.

Andrea Paternoster is the man who made Miele Thun what it is. He began his beekeeping on his family farm, but he found his vocation as a traveling beekeeper. Sadly, Andrea was killed in a car accident 18 months ago. The team at Miele Thun has carried on even after the loss of their leader. They have their Futurist Honeys Manifesto in hand to guide them. (The title is drawn from The Manifesto of Futurism by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1912.) They offer only what they call “nomadic honeys”—honey gathered as has been done for millennia by men and women moving beehives to where the blossoms (and hence the bees) are at. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but I’ll highlight this bit here:

Limited beekeeping has definite rules: it must be done manually, and industrializing production is difficult. The quantity of honey produced is limited to what the surrounding land can give, and not a drop more can be had unless mother nature allows it. limited and seasonal, with reduced production areas and fewer blooms and inclement weather all pose almost insurmountable obstacles to production. Anarchist beekeeping isn’t bound by the usual economic rules, being the ultimate lesson in patience and following cycles. … The resulting selection of honey captures the pure fragrance and flavor of the hills, forests, and pastures of Italy.

Miele Thun's Orange Blossom Honey this year (it’s not always the case) is very thick, almost creamy white in color. It has an exceptional aroma that hints of fresh orange blossoms, honeysuckle, and melon. Putting together a bunch of the things I’ve been writing about, try some of the orange blossom honey spooned atop the Bellwether Farms Ricotta we have at the Cream Top Shop or mixed into Bellwether Farms Yogurt (both made solely from Jersey milk in northern California, are terrific!). Try it for a sweet noodle dish—ricotta, honey, and some toasted almonds tossed with freshly-cooked egg pasta! Great, too, if you like to sweeten your coffee a bit. I often eat a spoonful before I head out on a run. Very special stuff to sweeten up your day!

You won’t see the Miele Thun Orange Blossom honey on the Mail Order site, but we’d still be happy to ship you some. Email us at

Nab your jar of joy
P.S. For an unusual and generally unexpected exploration of the surprising parallels between “Beekeeping and Leadership,” see Secret #26 in Part 2.

Other Things on My Mind

Miss Kim is closed for its annual winter week off, reopening Wednesday, January 11, at 11:30am.


The Deli’s Annual Pot Pie Stock Up Sale is on through February.

10% off when you buy 10 or more!

20% off when you buy 20 or more!!

30% off when you buy 30 or more!!!

Stock your freezer—as so many long-term regulars already do—and eat well for weeks to come!



Searching for the Dub Sublime by Ebilitoh, Prasanik, and Dubzaine is an awesome new book release from the folks at Indigenous Resistance in Uganda. Loaded up with insightful information about African anarchists, the Black Sikhs of Kenya, subversive spirituality, beautiful photography, and a whole lot more! I bought two copies—one to read (I'm halfway through), and the other to gift. Very highly recommended! 


Lotte Kestner is the nom de plume of Anna-Lynne Williams. I first came onto her ethereally lovely vocals many years ago when she was the lead singer of the Portland-based band Trespassers William. For the last ten years or so she’s been releasing beautiful music on her own. Williams is particularly adept at putting her personality effectively into adapting other musicians’ songs on her album Stolen—it has great versions of Bon Iver’s “Flume” and Vic Chesnutt’s chilling “Flirted With You All My Life.” Or check out her most recent album, Lost Songs.

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