2023 : Dorothy Zehnder Dies, Frankenmuth Hallmark

July 9, 2023 all-day

Dorothy Zehnder, the co-founder and beloved matriarch of the well-known, family-owned Bavarian Inn, died on Sunday at her home in Frankenmuth surrounded by family members. She was 101.

Dorothy Zehnder spent more than 85 years working at the family operations she co-founded in 1950 and was the face behind the well-known and family-owned Frankenmuth businesses. Zehnder was born in 1921 in Reese, about 10 miles north of Frankenmuth.

A Michigan landmark, the Zehnder’s restaurant opened across the street from Fischer’s, where William “Tiny” Zehnder, Dorothy’s late husband, worked with his siblings, granddaughter Martha Zehnder Kaczynski, vice president of the Bavarian Inn Lodge, said in a previous Free Press article.

The Zehnder family bought Fischer’s restaurant in 1950 and operated it along with Zehnder’s in Frankenmuth. At Fischer’s, Dorothy Zehnder wanted to stay out of the spotlight and cook so she went to the back of the house, and Tiny covered the front of the house.

In the late 1950s, the couple eventually renamed Fischer’s “the Bavarian Inn” and continued to operate it while Tiny’s brother, Eddie Zehnder, ran Zehnder’s restaurant.

Both restaurants were part of the same company up until 1984 when they split in order to build the Bavarian Inn Lodge — one of the largest Bavarian-themed resorts in the U.S.

While working behind the scenes, Dorothy Zehnder developed most of the recipes used in the restaurant. For more than 70 years, Zehnder taught tens of thousands of employees the correct way to prepare all the foods served in the Bavarian Inn’s 12 dining rooms, which seat a combined 1,200 guests.

The restaurant, located about 90 minutes north of Detroit, is famous for its family-style fried chicken dinners and German cuisine, serving more than 900,000 meals annually, according to the company.

Under the Bavarian Inn’s umbrella of companies, nearly 1,000 people are employed, serving thousands of guests daily. Bavarian Inn was ranked 59th last year on Restaurant Business’s list of largest independent eateries in the United States.

Described as a “humble servant leader,” Zehnder was a Michigan icon known for her work and talents in the hospitality industry, as a civic leader, author and mentor. She was also known for her philanthropic ties.

Zehnder was honored with the Outstanding Achievement in Michigan Tourism award from the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association. The award recognizes a person who “serves to promote, protect and grow Michigan tourism to the benefit of all industry segments and our state’s economy.”

Along with the restaurant, the family operations include Bavarian Inn Castle Shops, the Bavarian Inn Lodge, Frankenmuth River Place Shops, Covered Bridge Shop, Frank’s Muth retail store, Frankenmuth Cheese Haus, Bavarian Bleachers, a specialty line of food products, an online store and the William and Dorothy Zehnder Foundation. The Bavarian Inn Lodge is one of the state’s largest indoor water park hotels.

Source : Susan Selasky, “Dorothy Zehnder, co-founder and matriarch of Bavarian Inn, dies at 101”, Detroit Free Press, July 10, 2023.