Washtenaw Dairy, Ann Arbor, MI - Photo by K. Macdonald

What makes something authentic? All week I have been referring to the “Authentic” Ann Arbor Experience.  If you check the dictionary, “genuine” and “real” appear, along with phrases like “not false” or “not copied.”

In their bookAuthenticity: What consumers really want”, James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II define what they call the authenticity paradox.  It contains the following axioms:

  • If you are authentic, you don’t have to say you’re authentic.
  • If you say you’re authentic, then you’d better be authentic.
  • It’s easier to be authentic, if you don’t say you’re authentic.

That’s a tough standard. One that most would not meet.  Particularly not in today’s environment where almost everyone is clamoring to be the original, the genuine and only true real “whatever”.   Why?  Much of what we see around us seems fake, contrived, disingenuous, or phony.

Washtenaw Dairy, Ann Arbor, MI - Photo by K. Macdonald

With this in mind, let me tell you about the Washtenaw Dairy.  You won’t find it without directions even though it has been around since 1934.  There is no sign.  It is known for 3 things: coffee (you can forget cappuccino or pretension), donuts (the old fashioned kind) and ice cream (lots of it).

The mornings are for the regulars with coffee, donuts and gossip.  The evenings, especially the summer nights, are for everybody else and ice cream.  You line up inside and then head outside with your cone to find a dozen folks you haven’t seen since your last encounter at the Dairy.

Washtenaw Dairy, Ann Arbor MI - Photo by K. Macdonald

Inside you’ll find a wall full of old baseball mitts, a couple of coolers for the milk and soft drinks, and the freezers for the ice cream.  There are roughly 30 flavors sold and the size of the cones are “generous,” to say the least.  The price of the cones allows a family of 4 to keep everyone happy for under ten bucks.  Hard to do these days.

Their secret isn’t the price, it sure isn’t the decor, and it isn’t the location.  What is it?  The Dairy fits all of the axioms:

  • They are authentic, so they don’t have to say they’re authentic.
  • They never claim to be anything, so they don’t have to pretend.
  • For them it’s easier to be authentic, because they don’t say they’re authentic.
  • And as their general manager, Dave Halman once said, “Who needs a sign? Everybody knows where the Washtenaw Dairy is.”

Where’s the most authentic place you’ve ever been?