Putting the Zing in Zingerman’s Bakehouse: A Q+A with Book Designer Alice Chau
You’ll know a Zingerman’s Bakehouse box once you’ve seen it. Covered in wacky illustrations of baked goods and a spirited, hand-scrawled font, the distinctive orange and purple packages bear treats from the beloved Ann Arbor bakeshop whose fans include President Obama, Tom Brady, Mario Batali, and anyone who’s ever set foot in the state of Michigan.
In celebration of its 25th anniversary, Zingerman’s Bakehouse has published its first cookbook, Zingerman’s Bakehouse. Filled with meticulous instructions for recreating their mouth-watering treats, this book marks the first time the company has used photos of food in its print materials—images in its mail-order catalogs are painted by hand, and the few photos that appear on its website are paired with their signature illustrations.
Penned by bakehouse founders Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo, the book fits into Chronicle Books’ long tradition of beautifully-designed books without losing its distinctive Zingerman’s flair. I caught up with Senior Designer Alice Chau about getting to know the Zingerman’s community, and translating a quirky and charming brand into a gorgeous cookbook.
How would you describe the Zingerman’s brand?
Everything is illustrated, and they have a really strong brand. They have a huge mail order business and all of their catalogs are drawn, so they’ve never taken a product shot before this book. They have a team of two illustrators in-house, and then four graphic designers. They have their own font, this zany kind of quirky illustration, and then pretty realistic drawings of their food. For more than twenty five years, they’ve used this branding and it doesn’t really age. People really associate it with Zingerman’s. And you’ll come to associate this type of look with Ann Arbor because you see it all around town… you’ll see the logo and colorful, zany illustration and you already know, “Oh, this is Zingerman’s!”
Did you get to meet the illustrators?
I chatted with one of them, Ryan, and he’s amazing. He has a setup where he has a computer but he also has watercolors and paints. He’s painting all of these illustrations daily. And I asked him whether he uses a photo of the food or whether it’s the actual food. Most of the time it’s the actual food. If he was drawing a coffee cake, someone at the bakery would bake it for him, bring it for him, and it will sit there while he literally paints it.
The other cool thing I saw when I visited is their huge stockpile of illustrations throughout the years. When we were working on this book, Sarah Billingsley (the editor) and I asked which of the items that are recipes in this book have an illustration already. They looked in the archives and found the ones that had illustrations and identified which items had a black-and-white painting versus a colored one, and they literally pulled pieces out of this big, three-level file drawer. It’s amazing. They really keep them!
When you were making this book, what brand elements did you need to keep?
Definitely the quirky illustrations. And the bakehouse actually uses this typography that’s a little distressed and blocky that the rest of the brand (Zingerman’s Community of Businesses also includes a deli and a creamery, to name a few) doesn’t use. I definitely wanted to integrate the Zingerman’s font—Muno—but I didn’t want that to be the recipe title font. I really searched for one that I felt goes with their bakehouse stamp, which is their logo.
Did you get to try anything fun while designing the book?
They really wanted illustrations integrated, and we ended up having their team make these illustrations of Frank and Amy because they are the two voices in the book. They would each individually write certain head notes, so we were trying to think how to express that. We thought these cute illustrations fit in with the rest of the illustrations and brought a little more personality.
What was the most interesting part about working on the book for you?
I think getting up to Detroit—Amy insisted that I do that. I loved meeting her, chatting with the people who work there, and getting a sense of how much they love Zingerman’s. It’s a very strong community, and a strong business mission and purpose. Amy has taught many people how to bake. There are several people who started as kitchen staff and worked their way up to manager. And it was great hearing from community of people who love Zingerman’s. Anyone you meet who comes from Ann Arbor, they say, “It’s so great! I love it. There’s a long line but I love it!” We’re hoping this book communicates that it’s not just a bakery that makes amazing, tasty cakes. They’re feeding this community.
Some of the people in the BAKE! class that I took were so excited that this cookbook is coming out. They would say, “Finally, I’ve been taking classes for years and years and years and collected a lot of recipes from these classes, but never in this form.” So talking to them getting excited was really nice. Sometimes you don’t get to do that before the cookbook is published.
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This interview has been condensed and edited. To read more about all things design at Chronicle books, visit here.
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