For thirty-eight years, Paul Saginaw has toiled alongside Ari Weinzweig, first at Zingerman’s Deli and then as heads of the multifaceted Zingerman’s Community of Businesses. But Saginaw now is heading off to launch a solo venture in Las Vegas. When the $1 billion Circa Resort & Casino under construction in downtown Vegas announced its restaurant tenants in January, Saginaw’s Delicatessen headed the list.
Circa and Saginaw’s are scheduled to open in December. Saginaw says he is leasing space in the project but is barred by a nondisclosure agreement from discussing the financial details.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Saginaw says. “It’s been a lifelong dream to open a business in Las Vegas. Things happen at the right time.”
Weinzweig says he’s thrilled for his lifelong business partner, who he met when Saginaw hired him at Maude’s during the 1970s.
“I’m excited that Paul can pursue something that has so much meaning to him,” Weinzweig says.
Saginaw is already spending ten to fourteen days a month out west, and in June he’ll move to Vegas full-time to concentrate on his deli. Saginaw says his wife Lori will visit back and forth from Ann Arbor, and will help out in the weeks before the opening.
Saginaw says he bought a condo a short walk from the new development. The casino describes Saginaw’s on its website as “a family deli with sandwiches so big, you’ll need two hands to eat them.”
In a Facebook video for the deli, Saginaw says its cornerstone will be corned beef, along with matzo ball soup.
“We are taking a humble sandwich and elevating that to a satisfying experience,” he promises. “You’re going to say, ‘Oh my God, what is this thing?'”
If that lineup sounds familiar, Saginaw admits it harkens back to the original menu at Zingerman’s, before the deli offerings were spread across multiple signboards.
But Saginaw’s will be more streamlined and concentrate on twenty-four-hour dining, including a full breakfast menu. It won’t have a retail operation, Saginaw says.
Joining him in the venture will be Ann Lofgren, a longtime Zingerman’s manager who has been involved in Zingerman’s Roadhouse, Creamery, and ZingTrain training operation.
Saginaw, a Detroit native, says he’s been thinking about “transitioning out of Zingerman’s” for the past three or four years.
“I’m not going to separate completely,” he says, “but it’s time to let the next generation of managing partners, who are younger and smarter and more innovative, come in with better ways of continuously improving everything we do.”
Although Saginaw’s absence will leave a hole in the organization, Weinzweig says he looks at Zingerman’s “like an ecosystem. Other plants will rise and grow and fill spaces,” he says.
“Plus, it’s not like he’s really ‘gone’–we can all still call him anytime, and he’ll be back and forth. On we go!”
So, why not simply open a branch of Zingerman’s Deli in the gambling capital?
Saginaw says that would go against Zingerman’s mission, which is to “stay local and keep the brand local.”
Many Zingerman’s customers may not realize that Saginaw had already branched out. He is an investor in Flowers of Vietnam, a highly regarded Vietnamese restaurant in southwest Detroit.
And he is a partner in a coffee bar in The D Las Vegas, a Detroit-themed casino and hotel. Owned by brothers Derek and Greg Stevens, it includes branches of other local places, including Andiamo Steakhouse and American Coney Island, and advertises regularly on Detroit Tigers broadcasts.
Five years ago, Derek Stevens, a U-M grad, emailed Saginaw to ask if Zingerman’s would consider putting a branch in there. Saginaw said no, but brainstormed with Stevens on alternative ideas to bring Zingerman’s out west. That led to the Coffee Stand at The D, a kiosk which features Zingerman’s coffee.
Vegas might seem like the antithesis of Ann Arbor, but for Saginaw it is a second home. He became interested in gambling through his great-uncle, Charles “Chuckie” Sherman, a bookie who was arrested at least sixty-five times, by Saginaw’s count.
Sherman was swept up in one of Detroit’s most famous gambling raids in May 1971 at the Anchor Bar. More than 150 people were arrested, and Sherman was among those charged with running a $40,000 gambling ring. The charges were eventually dismissed when it turned out that the signatures of Justice Department officials on wiretap authorizations were forged.
As a boy, Saginaw accompanied Sherman to area racetracks, where his great-uncle taught him slide-rule-based calculations for betting on horses. He took his first trip to Las Vegas when he was twenty-one and has been going back ever since.
“I don’t think a year has gone by that I haven’t been out there at least once,” Saginaw says.
Saginaw says his aim is to replicate Zingerman’s service and attract Vegas-area residents who might not otherwise patronize the city’s resorts and hotels. He’d like to see people bring their visiting friends downtown to eat at Saginaw’s.
“Nothing would make me happier than to become a spot where locals like to go,” he says.