Winter Business | Zehnder's of Frankenmuth

Winter Business

By Al Zehnder, CEO of Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth

We were always talking about it; what to do about winter business. Business was so slow in the winter, my dad began scouting restaurant sites in Florida in the early 1960’s. Before I left for college in 1972, we were still talking about it. When I got back in 1976, the discussion was still alive. I think just talking about it so much made us feel like we were doing something about it. Maybe talking about it so much had some sort of therapeutic affect. While we attempted a few promotions with some degree of success, we never really moved the mark much. We generally resigned ourselves to the reality that there wasn’t much we could do about it.

Then about twenty one years ago in the fall of 1990, two guys just came walking in our offices and asked if they could talk with someone about an idea they had for a winter event in Frankenmuth. Our V.P. of Sales and Marketing, John Shelton, sat and listened to them explain how they thought a snow sculpture event would work in Frankenmuth. One of the guys, Bill Doerring, was an artist and the other, Pete Rumsey taught art. They had some experience and contacts in the art and snow sculpting community (which until then, I never knew existed) and were willing to work with us to make an event happen. Hey, what the heck, we knew it couldn’t be worse than what was coming anyway. At least this time we were talking about it with a plan. So we found ourselves planning a winter snow sculpting event.

First of all, it had to snow as we had no snow-making equipment. It did. We found out there is a standard size for snow blocks so we built the forms to make them and built some snow blocks; 10 feet high, 6 feet wide and 6 feet deep. Then the snow carving teams came. There are actually groups of individuals that travel around the country (and world) that spend countless hours creating beautiful works of art with the full knowledge that they will be destroyed. That’s art I guess. Then the weekend of the event came. John and I thought if we could attract 5,000 that would be great. Well the guests came, 90,000 that first year. We weren’t ready. The community wasn’t ready. The local police weren’t ready. Holy cow, we answered the question, at least in part, of what can we do for winter business.

Well from two guys walking in off the street (and a lot of hard work over the years) sprung Zehnder’s Snowfest named by the American Bus Association in 2011 as one of the top 100 winter events in North America. Snow and ice carvers from the U.S. and around the world carve, compete and just have fun. Since that first year, in addition to teams from the United States, we have had snow carvers from the Winnebago Indian Nation, Germany, France, Netherlands, England, Mexico, China, Russia, Bulgaria, Argentina and Canada.

Since that first year, over 2 million visitors have marveled at the creations of snow and ice. This year’s event January 25-30th marks our 21st year. In addition to snow and ice carvers from all parts of the United States, our 2012 event will feature teams from Mexico, China, Argentina, France and Canada.

If you have attended Zehnder’s Snowfest in the past, please share any thoughts or memories of your visit. If not, please plan on making Zehnder’s Snowfest 2012 part of your family’s winter getaway!


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