We may be in Las Vegas, but Saginaw’s Delicatessen located in the posh and very hip 1.25- million-square-foot, $1 billion Circa Casino & Hotel in the trending upwards historic Las Vegas district called the Fremont Street Experience, certainly has a Michigan spirit to it all. Paul Saginaw, who dropped out of graduate school and co-founded Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor almost 40 years ago, helping to grow the little Jewish delicatessen into a business that brings in over $45 million a year and has upwards to 600 employees.
Now at an age when many people are planning on retiring, Saginaw has rented a condo that’s just an eight-minute walk away. That way he can put in 12 to 18 hour days at his deli which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“My friends think I’m insane,” Saginaw tells me over a lunch the includes many of the sandwiches recognizable by those who have eaten at Zingerman’s Deli—such as their corned beef topped Swiss Emmental cheese, coleslaw & Russian dressing on Jewish rye bread, kreplach—the house made chicken broth with a brisket-filled dumpling, latkes, and knishes.
But despite the hours, Saginaw says that owning a place in Vegas is exactly where he wants to be.
Saginaw is a storyteller, often breaking into asides. Talking about growing up in the Detroit area, he says his sisters taught him to dance because he wasn’t handsome. That couples with being able to make women laugh was how he snagged his wife Lori Saginaw decades ago.
I’m torn, wanting to write everything down which is, of courses, why I’m here, but also nibble on the food that’s spread out on the table in front of us. Not exactly sophisticated of me, was it?
But here’s the gist of how our meeting went.
As I take a bite out of Ben Sherman’s Corned Beef & Pastrami, the house-made Russian dressing drips on my notebook. I’m torn between whether to try to clean it up with a napkin, eat more of the sandwich, or take notes as Saginaw tells me about how as kid, he ground-up chicken livers for his Grandmother Sherman as she prepared Friday Shabbat dinner. That quickly leads him talk about making gribenes from schmalz (chicken fat)—a necessary if complicated step to create what he describes as the most sublime chopped liver dish ever.
He recites the entire recipe for his grandmother’s or as its listed on the menu Bubbe’s chopped liver, but by now I’m too busy eating a matzoh ball. Talking about Grandma Sherman leads us next to Saginaw’s great uncle Charles “Chickie” Sherman, the number one Detroit bookie who was first arrested in 1925 and then added at least another 64 to the score before the big bust at Detroit’s Anchor Bar in 1971. That’s when two guys playing pool all of a sudden jumped over the bar and announced, “this is a raid.”
Chickie and 151 other people including about 15 policemen were arrested. Saginaw tells me he read the transcripts of the wiretaps the Feds made before the raid which ran thousands of pages. But Chickie’s business problems didn’t hurt the bookie’s popularity. When he died three years later, his funeral at the Ira Kaufman Funeral Chapel in Southfield, Michigan set the all-time record for attendance.
As an aside, those who want to take a stroll through Detroit’s mob days, the Anchor Bar is still in business.
Uncle Chickie is a big part of why Saginaw, who co-founded the very famous Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor with Ari Weinzweig back in 1982, is in Vegas. He’s always wanted to be here since first coming when young and hearing Chickie ask for chips and the pit boss ordering five big ones be sent over.
Indeed, we may be in Vegas, but really—as I mentioned earlier–there’s a lot of Detroit here as well. Derek Stevens, who owns the Circa, used to eat at Zingerman’s when he was a student at University of Michigan. When he emailed and asked Saginaw to open up a place at his new casino, what could Saginaw do but say yes. There are other East Michigan restaurants at Circa and as well as Stevens’ The D Las Vegas also part of the Fremont Experience as well including Andiamo Steak House, a high end Italian-inspired restaurant and the family owned American Coney Island. Owners Chris Sotiropoulos and Grace Keros also started up their first new concept Victory Burger & Wings Co in over one hundred years at Circa. The restaurant overlooks Circa’s sportsbook – the world’s largest, in fact.
As if Saginaw isn’t busy enough, he and partner Steve Mangigian also developed Jack Pots for Circa, a contemporary coffee stand serving their only-at-Circa coffee blend.
Honoring the original Detroit Tiger Stadium in Corktown where Stevens spent a lot of his youth, Circa’s Overhang Bar is located on the top floor of the Sportsbook, which by the way is the largest in the world. It was created to look like one of his favorite overlooks at the sports venue.
There’s also, though this has nothing to do with Stevens’s hometown of Detroit except that it’s every Michigan sports fans’ dream, a three-story, high-definition 78 million megapixel television screen. Don’t even think about buying one, because it cost approximately $20 million.
All in all—Stevens has brought Michigan to the desert.
“This has been on my bucket list forever,” says Saginaw who says he had a fascination with downtown Las Vegas versus the stretch of casinos on Las Vegas Avenue further south called the Las Vegas Strip.
But it’s not only restaurants that migrated out here. Saginaw brought along a lot of Zingerman’s menu items including the corned beef made exclusively for them by Sy Ginsberg at United Meat & Deli in Detroit.
According to Zingerman’s blog, when they first opened, “Sy delivered our corned beef out of the back of his Volkswagen. Then he’d stick around the deli for a few hours during the lunch rush to help out on the sandwich line. Paul sometimes introduces Sy as ‘the man who made the first corned beef sandwich at Zingerman’s.’”
As for the bread, well, it seems that though we’re still in U.S., there’s enough of a difference between the water and the climate that Saginaw worked for several years with Carlos Pereira, a well-known Vegas baker to perfect the rye bread so it tastes like what you get at the Ann Arbor deli. Cheeses come from Zingerman’s Creamery and sweets from Zingerman’s Candy in Ann Arbor along with other items made by their eleven community-based businesses.
The décor at Saginaw’s Delicatessen also reflects Detroit. An entire wall—a very large one—has blown up photos for the family including Great Uncle Chickie, who standing with his wife, doesn’t look like a mobbed up bookie but rather just an ordinary guy. Lori Saginaw was also at the deli the day I was there. She works with her husband and comes out to Vegas regularly.
“They branded me,” says Saginaw about the big stature of him by the deli’s entrance. Indeed, Saginaw’s name has become so connected with Zingerman’s quality foods, that drawings of his trousers with suspenders, jaunty hat, and black glasses are used in ads. But while Saginaw and Zingerman’s always had a type of hippie-ish ambience going on, there’s a lot of glitz at the new delicatessen in keeping with Circa itself whose tag line is “The Conduit Between the Las Vegas of the Past and the Las Vegas of tomorrow.”
As for Saginaw—well, he describes it as “a dream come true.”
Some recipes to try from Zingerman’s.
Zingerman’s Curried Chicken Salad
- 4 cups roasted turkey, diced and packed
- ¾ cup roasted cashews, chopped
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
- ½ medium red onion, diced small
- ½ bunch scallions, sliced
- ¾ cup plain whole milk yogurt
- ¾ cup mayonnaise
- 1 tsp garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp Épices de Cru Trinidad curry blend
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 2 tsp sea salt
Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir until well combined.
Serve the turkey salad on a bed of greens or your favorite Zingerman’s bread. To do it up Zingerman’s Deli style, place a couple generous scoops of curried turkey salad topped with microgreens between two slices of toasted Zingerman’s Bakehouse pecan raisin bread.
Bea’s Molasses Cookies
- 2 1/3 cups Zingerman’s Bakehouse All Purpose Flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp cloves
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 3/4 cups butter
- 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cups white sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup molasses
Sift flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice
Cream butter and sugars. Beat in egg and vanilla. Then molasses.
In thirds, add dry ingredients to wet, mixing between additions. Wrap in plastic, chill 30 minutes up to overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat an oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Roll 2″ balls of dough, roll in sugar. Place on baking sheets 2-3″ apart, flatten slightly with fingers.
Bake 10-12 minutes. Cool on racks.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Sprinkle the corned beef with a little water, wrap it tightly in aluminum foil and steam it in the oven.
Meanwhile, put the whole loaf of rye bread (unwrapped) into the oven. Bake the bread until the crust is very crunchy, about 15 minutes. Set the bread on the counter and let it cool for about 5 minutes.
When the rye bread is cool enough to handle place it on a cutting board. Hold the bread knife at a 45-degree angle and cut 12 slices.
Take the corned beef out of the oven and unwrap it. Spread each slice of bread with Russian dressing. Layer half of the slices with corned beef, sauerkraut and slices of Swiss cheese, then top the sandwiches with the remaining slices of bread (dressing-side down).
Heat 2 large heavy skillets over medium heat. Brush the bread with butter. Put the sandwiches in the pans and weight them with a lid or heat proof bowl topped with something heavy. Cook until the first sides are crisp and golden about 7 minutes then flip the sandwiches. Cook until the second sides are also well toasted, and the cheese is melted. Lift the sandwiches onto a cutting board. Cut each in half diagonally and serve.
Yield: 2 cups
- 3/4 cups mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup plus 2 to 3 tablespoons chili sauce
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- 2 teaspoons chopped curly parsley leaves
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced Spanish onion
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced dill pickle
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon grated horseradish
- 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Combine the mayonnaise, chili sauce, sour cream, parsley, onion, pickle, lemon juice, horseradish and Worcestershire sauce in a bowl and mix well.