Deli Business 19th Annual People’s Choice Award Winner: Zach Berg

Mongers’ Provisions
Detroit and Berkley, MI

Q. How has your career evolved over the years?
A. I started at the bottom at 12 years old washing dishes for a catering company. I always was interested in food. As a precocious young man not getting a sufficient allowance, I fell in love with food. I liked the idea that I can find a job in food and never go hungry. I worked from washing to prepping to cooking all through high school. I was a line cook for most of my youth. I thought I wanted to be a chef or restaurant owner. I did my undergrad in hospitality, then spent two years working at Zingerman’s, and that’s where my trajectory shifted.

I stubbornly went to culinary school in 2010 but petered out. I was working at a high-end San Francisco restaurant, and was having panic attacks on my way to work every day. I was lucky I had an entryway into cheese and had something to go back to. I got a job at a store run by Zingerman’s employees in San Francisco. I was in San Francisco for six years after culinary school.

I worked at Bi-Rite, a San Francisco cheese shop, then moved back to Michigan to apply my skills. With Zingerman’s reputation in Ann Arbor, I decided to jump into it. I’ve been back home about seven years, and Mongers’ Provisions has been open for six years. It started as a pop up business with me and my best friend and turned into a shop in 2017. I had been home for less than a year before we opened.

Q. What is your leadership philosophy?
A. I try as best I can to use what I learned at Zingerman’s. I try to serve employees and give them space to serve guests. It’s emotional as it is financial. Hopefully, they feel supported and in a safe environment to do their best. When not giving them support, that’s an issue. I try to connect with employees on an emotional level. I can give great service to customers because they are taken care of.

Q. What is the best advice you ever received and why?
A. I really loved when I was starting to do the pop up. I wanted to open a brick and mortar store but we were forced to do things unconventionally and determined how our brand would be structured. So pop ups were very informative.

Q. How do you balance your work and personal life?
A. I have a business partner who is 50/50, who owns and operates with me. We’ve childhood best friends since we were 10 years old. He is a great support system in that regard and lets me tend to myself and get out of the store. I have a two year old and he has six-year-old twins, so our lives are full. What we attempt to do in terms of balance is be honest and transparent. It’s a collaborative process, and we do minor experiments as we go along. We also ask staff for help to have a better balance.

Q. What deli retail trends have impacted the industry most over the last year?
A. I’m really focused on portions. We had so much success years ago with large trays, deli trays, grazing tables, but COVID put the kibosh on that; people wanted individual trays or portions. We are now doing a lot more weddings and communal trays but we make them smaller and learned a lot. Experiential is a long running trend, whether in retail or deli. Customers come to us for expertise, conversation or experience, and we always keep that in mind.

Q. What technology or technical tools are indispensable to you in the workplace and why?
A. We jumped on the bandwagon of virtual tastings. I’m learning that I can host a tasting, and people are more comfortable with Zoom. So, we rethought how we do meetings and entertaining people from afar using Zoom. It was world changing for us. We also became an ecommerce company and are learning how to do that and do it well.

Q. What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome on the job?
A. I’m no longer a cheesemonger or line cook, which are the versions I saw myself as a child. I love this idea to be humble and collaborative, as it gets you so far. People want clear directions and someone with a vision.

Q. What hobbies do you enjoy outside of work?
A. I’m a voracious reader, like to read about self-help/philosophy, food books but mostly cheese. I find myself reading about food and wine, then vacillate to fiction writing. I’ve become an agave spirits nerd with mescal or tequila. I like to seek out cool producers in Mexico.

Q. Are you married? If so, how long? How many children?
A. I am married, and my wife is a rabbi. We’ve been married six years. I proposed to her the Monday after our grand opening weekend. We have a two-year-old boy.


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