photos & article by Samantha Tengelitsch
The Bavarian Inn Restaurant in Frankenmuth celebrated all things Michigan with its annual “Purely Michigan” feast last Friday. The Inn’s own Chef Phil designed a five-course meal featuring Michigan-grown foods including cranberries from the Michigan Cranberry Company (Cheboygan), the Inn’s famous Red Currant Wine, a sweet blend of currants and white wine from Fenn Valley Vineyards (Fennville), and turkey schnitzel made with turkeys raised in Michigan and sold through the Michigan Turkey Producer’s Co-op in Wyoming, MI.
The Bavarian Inn has been in operation since 1950 and is part of Zehnder’s restaurant fame, which began with Zehnder’s Restaurant in 1929. Four of the five generations were present at the dinner, including Great Grandma Dorothy, who co- founded the inn with her husband, Bill “Tiny” Zehnder.
When the Inn opened in 1950, it created two Zehnder-owned restaurants, one across the street from the other. Tiny suggested the Inn come up with a theme to distinguish one from the other, so a German architect was consulted. Dorothy said the architect agreed to work with the Zehnders as long as they promised to, “go Bavarian.” In 1958, the Bavarianized Inn re-opened.
Guests, distributors and area farmers were welcomed to the event. The third largest industry in Michigan is culinary tourism was celebrated and Bill Zehnder said the Inn’s goal is to become the “largest user of Michigan products of any restaurant in Michigan.” He added, “I think we have and will continue to achieve that.”
Representatives from the farms and distribution companies were at the dinner and complimenting the meal were presentations from each on the different aspects of growing or producing Michigan products and distributing them to area restaurants and markets.
Wally Huggett, owner for the Michigan Cranberry Company, explained cranberries, one of only three fruits native to Michigan, are on the rise. Huggett has successfully planted 217 acres of cranberries in Cheboygan County and his produce is sold directly to Zehnders who incorporate the cranberries into a delightful sorbet.
Annually the Inn takes in over 50 tons of Blue Hubbard squash alone from area farmer Fred Weiss of Frankenmuth. The Greenfield Noodles Company of Detroit makes their noodles and their pastry flour comes from the flourmill just down the road at the Star of the West Milling Company.
Prior to the close, American Culinary Federation award-winning Chef Phil spoke on the development of the menu. Chef Phil, who has worked with the Inn for over 20 years, consulted Dorothy in the planning stages.
Following the sold-out dinner, Bill Zhender commented, “Other than college and the Army, I’ve been here all my life.” Referring to his pre-school age granddaughter, Sophie, who was handing out menus at the event, he cheerfully added, “My dad paid me in peanuts, but we’re paying her in marbles.”
Dorothy who still works six days a week and has for 60 years, said “We bake and cook and then invite all the family over and that’s how we spend my day’s off.”
The Bavarian Inn Restaurant is located on 713 South Main Street in Frankenmuth. Visit www.bavarianinn.com for more information.