Promoting "Bavarian" Frankenmuth

by Nancy Sajdak Manning


This 1956 photo was taken at Zehnder's of Frankenmuth in Saginaw County prior to the 165-year-old community becoming a city in 1959 and assuming its Bavarian identity in 1965-and when Frankenmuth still was almost totally self-reliant for goods and services to support local families and small businesses.

Here, Zehnder family members pose in the Heritage Room (now enlarged) to promote chicken dinners at their family restaurant. Those pictured, left to right, from the foreground, are past Zehnder's co-owner, Eddie Zehnder; daughter, Susie Zehnder (now Zehnder's vice president of human resources); spouse, Marion Zehnder; and son, Al Zehnder (now Zehnder's CEO).

In the mid-1960s, as auto ownership and tourism increased, Michigan's Governor George Romney and tourism, conservation, and economic leaders promoted tourism as a year-round industry. In 1965, Frankenmuth formed an economic progress committee to set goals for the new city. Based upon the city's successful Frankenmuth Bavarian Festivals that featured Frankenmuth chicken dinners, committee members recommended developing a Bavarian identity to promote Frankenmuth's heritage and to attract the emerging tourism market.

In 2009, Frankenmuth, with a city/township population of about 7,000, attracted about three million visitors and employed between 3,500 and 4,200 in the tourism industry. Visitors to Zehnder's 1,500-seat "America's Largest Family Restaurant" were served nearly one million dinners. Photo courtesy of Zehnder's of Frankenmuth.

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