Garnishing a Brand 

ISD Design Science Student Holden Pizzolato Integrates Community-Based Design and Brand Building for Zingerman’s Roadhouse

Zingerman’s Delicatessen, headquartered in Ann Arbor, is beloved and legendary for its full-flavored, traditionally made foods — from storied sandwiches to seasonal side dishes and specialty food staples. This quality is appreciated among the best sandwich shops in America. In fact, it was just ranked No. 9 on the list of the Top 15 Sandwich Shops in the U.S. by the travel publication Far and Wide.

Zingerman’s is also widely known for its elite customer service. In fact, Zingerman’s 3 Steps to Giving Great Service is followed widely by many businesses throughout the world.

Still, there’s always room for improvement. 

Enter Holden Pizzolato

Pizzolato, an Integrative Systems + Design Master of Design Science student, finished his ISD capstone project in August 2023 with Zingerman’s Roadhouse, one of the restaurants in Zingerman’s community of shops, eateries, and businesses.

Intersecting Community-Based Design and Brand Building

At Zingerman’s Roadhouse, Pizzolato learned advertisements are just one-way communications.

“We have something in mind, we create ads, and put them out there,” he said. “But they’re not always grounded in reality and that’s why sometimes advertisers get in trouble.”

Pizzolato also learned enduring brands, like Zingerman’s, periodically conduct comprehensive marketing research to gain new insights to strengthen the brand’s positioning and customer engagement. 

His discoveries?

Effective brands are about people, not products. Effective brands are about how you make people feel, not just metrics, clicks, and engagements. And effective brands build community engagement, loyalty, and repeat business. 

“Zingerman’s reputation for customer service really just precedes them,” Pizzolato said. “I am certainly the not first nor the last to talk about how impressive their customer service is.”

What separates Zingerman’s from competitors is their dedicated and loyal customers, not just the ones who come in every once in a while, Pizzolato said. These customers are called family and are part of their community.

“In spite of their size and success, there’s still that entrepreneurial spirit and it’s something special about Zingerman’s,” he said.

‘Delicious Data’

For his ISD Capstone Project, Pizzolato worked as a Project Intern with the Zingerman’s Roadhouse marketing teams to improve customer service by paying more attention to consumer-initiated online brand communities in evaluating multimedia campaigns and .

looking at its brand as a community center. He called the project “Delicious Data at Zingerman’s Roadhouse” and documented the process throughout production.

“The project became a community celebration for Zingerman’s Roadhouse,” he said. “It highlighted the full impact of their community, especially for members who are speaking with quiet voices.”

Before he left, Pizzolato made recommendations for future marketing campaigns. He was surprised none of his suggestions were shot down. 

“This was suspiciously surprising,” he said. “They are so willing to listen and find a way to prototype anyone’s suggestions.”

‘Our License to an Interdisciplinary Career’

Born in Austin, Texas, Pizzolato earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication Design and Art History minor with distinction (cum laude) from the University of North Texas (UNT). 

At UNT, he earned an advanced studio elective through a study abroad program that explored museums and studios across Cornuda, Basel, Florence, Milan, Rome, Venice, and Weil am Rhein. He also served as president of AIGA at UNT (AIGA is the professional association for design) and earned several awards, including an Honorable Mention from the UCDA Design Awards and Silver Award from the Graphis New Talent Annual 2021. 

“I believe an education in design is our license to an interdisciplinary career,” he said. “I adore learning from systems. How communities rely on them, and what might happen if they are not improved.”

Feeling Welcomed

Pizzolato says he feels welcomed at ISD.

“I cannot overstate how welcome I have felt in ISD,” he said. “The relationships I made with ISD students, faculty and staff were, and shall continue to be, a source of strength for this BFA-transplant.”