Dorothy Zehnder has been helping serve up Christmas dinner since the late 1930s at the Bavarian Inn in Frankenmuth, and on Thursday — Christmas Day — at age 93, she will be on hand to help serve hundreds of loyal customers who have made the visit to the Inn a family tradition. Zehnder spoke with DBusiness Daily News about how she helps oversee the operations of one of the nation’s largest independent restaurants.
1. DDN: How long have you been working at the Bavarian Inn?
DZ: I’ve been here 65 years. I started when I was 16 as a waitress for the Fischer family (when the business was then named Fischer’s Hotel). After three years, I married (Tiny Zehnder) and stopped working for a few years while I had children. But then in 1950, the Fischer family decided they wanted to retire and sold the business to the Zehnder family. So I came back to work for the Zehnders.
2. DDN: How have things changed since then?
DZ: When we started, we just served chicken. After a while, my husband and I implemented German dinners. We had Sauerbraten (pot roast) and Kasseler Rippchen (pork). My husband also brought in Bratwurst, using the same recipes his father used. Today, chicken is still our main entrée, but we serve at lot of German foods as well.
3. DDN: How involved are you with the business today?
DZ: I work six days a week. I come in every day, usually around 9 a.m. and am very much involved in the kitchen area. I check coolers and the reservation sheets. I check the party menu to make sure we have the right amount of meat and vegetables on hand when they get here. (Our busiest times of year) are June if we’ve had a nice spring; September and October, when there are color tours; and of course, December, since we have a lot of families who come in for Christmas.
4. DDN: In 2013, the Bavarian Inn served more than 800,000 guests. What do you attribute the restaurant’s success to?
DZ: Our family works day by day in the business. We have a very hands-on approach. If we get busy in one area, then we step in and take care of that. We don’t ask our employees to do something that we ourselves would not do. If there’s a project, then we work right there with our employees. Five of our grandchildren are now in managerial positions, so it’s kind of a family tradition. We all work together to try to make the business prosperous.
5. DDN: How did you introduce your grandchildren to the family business?
DZ: Everyone had their start, or their first job, with me in the kitchen. They would draw ice cream and clean celery. And then, as they got older, they went to work in other areas like the office of the candy store. That was always very exciting for me, when I taught them how to do things. I think they all have a very good work ethic. They don’t hold back. They all pitch in and help wherever needed.
Earlier this year, Dorothy Zehnder published her second cookbook, From My Kitchen to Yours, which contains a number of Bavarian Inn recipes never before published. For more information, call 989-652-9941, ext. 3332 or visit onlinestore.bavarianinn.com.