If you’re into food, retail, and innovation, the legendary Zingerman’s of Ann Arbor, Michigan rises to the top. This is a good company.

They are great editors

All the products they sell are good. You can’t get crap olive oil from Zingerman’s. You can’t get bad vinegar from Zingerman’s. You can’t get bad bread or bad cheese or anything bad at Zingerman’s. They seriously care about the quality of their products and often have a personal relationship with the people who make them.

They let you taste stuff

If you go to their store in Ann Arbor you can taste the oil, taste the vinegar, taste the honey. They’re confident in their product and they want you to be comfortable with your purchase. I’m sure it increases sales as well.

They have fun

Go to their store or pick up their catalog and you’ll see what I mean. They don’t take themselves too seriously. Their entire catalog is hand illustrated too which is always fun.

They teach the Zingerman’s way

They have classes on the The Art of Giving Great Service and a class called Small Giants which they describe as:

Are you struggling with how to grow your business? Do you feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of “opportunities” that confront you? Does the idea of growing as big as you can as fast as you can leave you uninspired (and exhausted)? In researching his book, Bo Burlingham uncovered a whole group of companies that chose alternative routes to success. Learn what qualities distinguish these organizations and explore whether or not the Small Giants’ path is a viable route for you.

They even offer an unconventional finance class:

No, we’re not talking Enron-style bending, but solid, ethically-oriented ways to make great finance a successful part of the organization at every level instead of just hiding it in the accounting office. We do weird stuff like teach finance classes to line cooks; post our financial performance on wall-mounted white boards; calculate how many scones we have to sell to buy a new oven; teach costing and pricing classes to our front-line crew; post service and quality bottom-line measurements right next to our financial scores; and share the winnings with as many people as possible.

They’re curious

If they find something they really like they’ll sell it even though it doesn’t fit into their traditional categories. Here’s a list of “the great unknowns “ they’re currently offering.

They’ve taken their time

They’ve built their business the old fashioned way and stayed true to their roots in Ann Arbor. They’ve been around since 1982. Started as one small corner deli. 25 years later, the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses employs over 450 people and generates annual sales of over $30 million.

Next time you are in Ann Arbor, check out Zingerman’s Deli. Or, order some stuff mail order. I think you’ll love it.

Update: Here’s a piece from Inc. calling Zingerman’s the coolest small company in America.