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A life full of passion serving guests – Dorothy Zehnder, Bavarian Inn matriarch, celebrates 95th birthday

Profile Photo By: Carsten Hennig
November 30, 2016

A life full of passion serving guests – Dorothy Zehnder, Bavarian Inn matriarch, celebrates 95th birthday

Frankenmuth, Michigan – 30 November 2016
With no retirement plans in sight, Dorothy Zehnder, co-founder of the family-owned Bavarian Inn Restaurant will celebrate her 95th birthday on Thursday, December 1 doing what she enjoys the most – working in the kitchen of one of the nation’s largest and most successful independent restaurants.

“I like working,” she says. “I like to cook, and I like people. What else is there that I would like better?”

The petite and lively matriarch doesn’t look much like a modern CEO, but don’t be fooled. Over the years, Dorothy has been involved with all the family’s business operations, all located in Frankenmuth – Michigan’s Little Bavaria. In addition to the restaurant, they include Bavarian Inn Lodge, Castle Shops, River Place Shops, Covered Bridge & Leather Gift Shop, Frankenmuth Cheese Haus, a specialty line of food products, and online store.

She’s also the author of two cookbooks, “Come Cook with Me,” published in 2011, and the follow-up “From My Kitchen to Yours,” published in 2014. Both cookbooks are available for purchase at the online store at www.bavarianinn.com and are filled with stories about Dorothy, cooking, her family and the German-themed restaurant they created.

Dorothy, who was born in nearby Reese, Michigan, founded the restaurant with her late husband, William “Tiny” Zehnder, after Tiny’s family purchased the former Fischer’s Hotel in 1950. At that time, the Zehnders and their 12 employees served about 50 people a day. Today, the Bavarian Inn Restaurant has 450 employees, serves thousands of people a day in 12 dining rooms and annually ranks among the country’s largest family-run restaurants. Dorothy’s children and their spouses, along with her grandchildren – a total of 9 family members – work alongside her every day to continue the success story of the Bavarian Inn.

Despite Michigan’s economic struggles over the years, the Bavarian Inn has held its own. While the restaurant and travel industries continue to experience challenges, the Bavarian Inn is remaining profitable.

Dorothy Zehnder, Bavarian Inn matriarch, celebrates 95th birthday December 1 - Six days a week, serving thousands of patrons, at one of Midwest’s top tourist destinations
Dorothy Zehnder, Bavarian Inn matriarch, celebrates 95th birthday December 1 – Six days a week, serving thousands of patrons, at one of Midwest’s top tourist destinations

Today, Dorothy’s main mission is to oversee quality control in the kitchen – making sure the mashed potatoes are whipped to perfection, and that the entrees, like the Bavarian Inn’s famous Frankenmuth Chicken, meet her high standards before heading to the dining room.

How, Dorothy is often asked, does she manage to maintain such a healthy and active lifestyle in her mid-90’s?

“I tell them that I eat a lot of chicken,” she replies, laughing.

About Bavarian Inn: Celebrating 125 years of service in 2013, the Bavarian Inn Restaurant has become a Michigan landmark. Generations of diners, lodgers and tourists from around the globe have discovered true Bavarian hospitality thanks to Dorothy and her late husband William “Tiny” Zehnder. Guests experience the old-world European charm of the Bavarian Inn – whether it’s the famous chicken dinners, fresh baked goods or Michigan’s greatest selection of German beer. Bavarian Inn also prides itself on being one of the top consumers of Pure Michigan agricultural products. Nestled within a backdrop of authentic German architecture, a variety of shops and other fun activities, a trip to Frankenmuth would not be complete without a visit to the Bavarian Inn.

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