In early November, long lines of applicants snaked outside the company’s warehouse on Phoenix Drive. But Zingerman’s national sales arm played it conservative this year, hiring 10 percent fewer seasonal workers to handle the holiday rush.

After a dozen years of sometimes explosive growth in revenue and employment, Zingerman’s had an “ugly Christmas” last year, explains managing partner Mo Frechette. This year, he says, it’s budgeting for no improvement–though “we’re crossing our fingers for a slight uptick.”

Just don’t look for “recession specials” in the 600,000 holiday catalogs Mail Order is sending out. “People still want joy in what they eat and excitement,” says Frechette. “We sell special foods for special occasions…. The product mix hasn’t really changed.”

The temps come from all walks of life–“the Ph.D. working next to the guy out of jail for three weeks,” says Frechette. But this year in particular, many applied who in better economic times would be working at think tanks, consulting firms, or universities. “Their careers are just taking a pit stop here,” Frechette says cheerfully. “We’ve had more applicants than ever.”

The final five days of pre-Christmas orders account for close to one-fourth of the company’s $8 million in annual sales. On the busiest day, December 21 or 22, Frechette expects to ship $600,000 worth of bread, cheese, sweets, and other foodstuffs.

Frechette believes the downturn is temporary. “We’re still looking to grow as a business,” he says. Within a year or two, he hopes to have 500 seasonal jobs–and more full-time positions, too. Three-quarters of Mail Order’s forty year-round employees started as seasonal temps.