Thrive-able Wages


Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (ZCoB), based in Ann Arbor, MI is redefining the idea of a fair wage. In 2012, ZCoB’s partners began developing the concept of a ‘thrive-able wage’. It all started in an Ann Arbor, Michigan deli, with a mission statement that was focused on enriching the lives of others, rather than just increasing profits.

ZCoB includes the company’s award-winning Roadhouse, deli, Cornman Farms, a fully working farm that provides farm to table essentials for the company’s restaurant locations. There’s also a bakery, creamery, catering service, thriving online business and much more.

The deli, which first opened its doors in Ann Arbor, MI in 1982, a joint venture of Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw. Over the years, ZCoB has branched out in a variety of new and creative directions. ZCoB now has a total of 18 partners, all of whom are committed to the company’s mission.

If you’re wondering what’s so special about ZCoB’s mission, besides ‘selling food that makes you happy’ and ‘giving service that makes you smile,’ the company’s mission includes ‘showing love and care in all our actions to enrich as many lives as we possibly can.’

That’s where ZCoB’s idea of a ‘thrive-able wage’ comes in.

ZCoB provides both full and part-time staff with access to health and dental benefits, a 401K savings plan, and paid time off. Also, every staff person, from the first day they’re hired, is given free access to an Employee Assistance Program, available not just for the staff, but also for their family members. The program gives members access to help with issues related to ‘family, child or elder care, marital/relationship, substance abuse, stress/anxiety/depression, problems at work, financial/budgeting and legal.’

The company monitors the staff tips and management ensures that all workers within the company earn $21 per hour. That’s a far cry above the federal minimum wage, which for tipped workers remains at a shameful $2.13 an hour. Under federal law, employers are required to ensure that tipped workers make at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, but many in the restaurant industry do not. Often workers are willing to accept less than minimum wage pay, out of fear they will lose their jobs if they complain.

ZCoB’s ‘thrive-able wage’ concept is not typical of the food service industry. Maybe that’s why the company has seen better than typical growth and profits over the years.

Paul Saginaw, one of the two original owners of Zingerman’s, believes, as an employer, he is a part of a larger eco-system of workers,  their families and their communities. Being committed to the success of each staff member, has created a staff that is committed to the success of ZBoC. The company’s business model also includes involving employees in business management and planning, in what the company refers to as a ‘books wide open policy.’

Staff members were also a part of the discussion on determining what would a ‘thrive-able wage’ would look like.

Unlike the federal minimum wage, which sets a bottom amount that employers can get away with paying their workforce, the ‘thrive-able wage’ sets a standard for pay that allows employees to thrive. Compared to a living wage, which sets the pay scale at what an employee needs just to stay above the poverty line, the concept of a ‘thrive-able wage’ embraces the idea that workers deserve a wage that allows them to enjoy life, not just barely survive.

The company’s ‘thrive-able wage’ vision, which was drafted in 2012, includes the following:

We [are raising] wages to a “thrive-able” level throughout the organization and there is a powerful multiplier effect going on. Higher wages lead to higher morale and is the engine that keeps everything spiraling upward. In many cases, productivity increases due to lowered stress levels in the lives of the people in our organization because of assurance that their financial needs are covered….We have less people needing to rely on forms of public assistance like SNAP card benefits and the Washtenaw Health Plan. We maintain the offering of assistance from our Community Chest because it serves as the safety net for employees without personal networks of support or who face disastrous emergencies outside of their control.

Another branch of ZCoB called Zingtrain provides trainings for other business owners and their staff, on responsible, purposeful business management. They offer workshops, seminars even books and cd’s, hopefully creating a vision for other businesses to follow their lead in this area.

Saginaw and Weinzweig were recently listed among the top 25 most influential people in Michigan, by MyLife. On top of that, Inc. named ZCoB as ‘the coolest small company in America.’

Saginaw says that he struggles to understand the profit motive, which drives most businesses in America. “Maybe there’s limits to generosity but probably no limit to greed,” he said during a 2012 interview. “All I know is we created our businesses intentionally based on what we wanted to be, and the life we wanted to live.”

ZCoB’s business model is proving that employers and employees can both thrive, when management views workers as assets and makes their success a priority. While paying workers a ‘thrive-able wage’ ZCoB has experienced substantial growth, becoming a multi-million dollar business, which is continuing to expand.

Similar to Costco and Trader Joes, ZCoB is demonstrating that companies do not have to pay poverty wages to keep their doors open. If a small business, like Zingerman’s deli, can provide a ‘thrive-able wage’ to their employees, while expanding and increasing profits, what could a giant corporation like Walmart or McDonalds do, if they made worker success a part of their business model?


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