Bavarian Inn matriarch Dorothy Zehnder to celebrate 101st birthday

It’s 101 years young for Frankenmuth’s beloved Dorothy Zehnder.

The co-founder and matriarch of the family-owned Bavarian Inn operations in Frankenmuth will be celebrating her 101st birthday on Thursday.

Plans are, according to family, for Zehnder to be with her immediate family celebrating with a private 101 Dalmatian-themed party.

Zehnder’s family operations include the Bavarian Inn and several businesses under the same name.

Dorothy Zehnder will celebrate her 101st birthday on Dec. 1.
Dorothy Zehnder will celebrate her 101st birthday on Dec. 1.

More:Michigan's largest indoor water park is coming to Frankenmuth

Among Zehnder’s favorite places to be, according to the family, is with her family and in the kitchens at the Bavarian Inn Restaurants, where she began working 85 years ago.

More:Judy Zehnder Keller, the founder of Bavarian Inn Lodge, dies at 77

“Even at 101, Dorothy still loves what she does,” granddaughter Amy Zehnder Grossi said in a statement. “She loves good food, being with people, and playing card games — and she’s still great at it, too.”

Zehnder has been behind the Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn operations that she founded with her late husband, William “Tiny” Zehnder. The couple married in 1943.

Zehnder's restaurant opened across the street from Fischer's, where Tiny Zehnder and his siblings worked, said granddaughter Martha Zehnder Kaczynski, vice president of the Bavarian Inn Lodge, for a previous Free Press story.

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 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.

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

Under the Bavarian Inn umbrella of companies, nearly 1,000 people are employed, who serve thousands of guests daily.

The Bavarian Inn Restaurant seats 1,200 people and is famous for its family-style fried chicken dinners and German cuisine.

Bavarian Inn’s famous chicken is seasoned with the restaurant's proprietary chicken seasoning, which you can buy at the restaurant and online. More than 900,000 meals are served annually, according to the company.

Zehnder’s children and their spouses and four of her grandchildren work at the Bavarian Inn. She has 10 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.

Zehnder is the author of three cookbooks. Her first book, "Cookies & Bars," was published in 1986. In 2011, she published "Come Cook with Me," featuring hundreds of recipes and Zehnder's kitchen wisdom. Zehnder followed up with "From My Kitchen to Yours" in 2014, featuring 195 family recipes from a vast collection of more than 1,000.

In October 2020, Zehnder was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame. She's also the recipient of the Saginaw Lifetime Achievement Award.

If you’d like to wish Dorothy Zehnder a birthday greeting, you can email

Contact Detroit Free Press food writer Susan Selasky and send food and restaurant news to: Follow @SusanMariecooks on Twitter.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Bavarian Inn matriarch Dorothy Zehnder to celebrate 101st birthday