Courtesy of Pure Michigan, posted on June 17, 2016
zehnders-sign-wtopiary-chickenFather’s Day serves as a time to be with family and share memories of the past. In Michigan, we have many distinctive family-run companies which not only maintain their roots as historic businesses, but they are paying attention to current trends and looking to the future to thrive for new generations. Read more as Dianna Stampfler of Promote
Michigan shares the history behind four multi-generational businesses.
Zehnder’s, Frankenmuth – The first restaurant meals served in Frankenmuth were at the Exchange Hotel in 1856, just 11 years after the town’s founding. In 1928, William and
Emilie Zehnder sold their 80-acre farm and borrowed the balance of the funds necessary for the $8,000 down payment to purchase the hotel. They opened on Mother’s Day, 1929 and on that first day served 312 guests, for just one dollar each.
The 1950s were a pivotal decade as the Zehnder family purchased the competition, the Fischer’s Hotel (where the community’s family-style chicken dinner originated), and named Tiny Zehnder as manager. Within a few years, Tiny suggested to the family that they remodel the building, adding character through Bavarian architecture. The entire family agreed and by 1959 the newly named Bavarian Inn opened with a grand celebration—the foundation to Frankenmuth’s Bavarian Festival, which is still celebrated to this day.
Despite financial setbacks, the Zehnder family continued to invest in its businesses and community, helping to create an unquestionable pride in its German heritage. The successful transformation of Fischer’s Hotel to the Bavarian Inn helped to encourage other Frankenmuth property owners to develop what is now “Michigan’s Little Bavaria.”
Today, the third generation of the Zehnder family are still currently involved in the day-to-day operations of their expanded businsses.
The Bavarian Inn branch of the family (under the guidance of their 95-year-old matriarch, Dorothy Zehnder) oversees the Bavarian Inn Restaurant, the Bavarian Inn Lodge and the
River Place Shops. The Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth branch operates the flagship Zehnder’s Restaurant (America’s largest family restaurant), as well as The Fortress championship
golf club, Zehnder’s Splash Village and a retail facility Zehnder’s Marketplace.
Click here to view all of Michigan’s most inconic multi-generational businesses. Michigan is home to many other generational family businesses, what are your favorites?
Dianna Stampfler is the president of Promote Michigan. She’s been an active supporter of the tourism industry since her first family vacation to Leelanau County at the age of three. Today, she is living her dream and resides in the Lake Michigan shoreline community of Petoskey.