Bavarian Inn Matriarch Still Stirs the Kettle As She Turns 93

Dorothy Zehnder Oversees Bavarian Inn Operations

  • Works almost every day at Bavarian Inn Restaurant
  • Released 2nd cookbook this year featuring 195 recipes
  • Works with 9 other family members across corporation
Bavarian Inn Matriarch Still Stirs the Kettle As She Turns 93
Dorothy Zehnder

While many people her age are coping with the limitations of their advancing years, Dorothy Zehnder is still going strong, working in the kitchen of the Bavarian Inn Restaurant almost every day as she celebrates her 93rd birthday, December 1. Born and raised in Reese, Michigan, this dynamo is not only in charge of one of the nation’s largest independent restaurants, she also still oversees the family’s business operations with help from her children and grandchildren.

Dorothy began working as a young waitress at what was then Fischer’s Hotel in the 1940s. Just a few years later in 1950, she and late husband Tiny Zehnder and his family bought the restaurant, changed its name and began as the new managers. In time, Dorothy developed the complete lunch and dinner menus the Bavarian Inn still serves today. What is an average day like for Dorothy? She says there’s nothing she doesn’t do: food preparation, ordering, quality control, cleanliness, production systems, developing new menu items, promotion and marketing.

In addition, she authored a very personal tome in 2011, “Come Cook With Me,” a collection of recipes, wisdom, photos and stories from her years at the helm of the Bavarian Inn. Earlier this year, she released a new book, “From My Kitchen to Yours,” that features 195 hand-picked family-favorite recipes from her vast 1,000-plus personal collection. This newest edition contains more recipes, kitchen tips and memories from both her family life and the restaurant. Both publications were completed while she continued her daily duties at the restaurant.

According to Dorothy, the Frankenmuth “All you care to eat family-style chicken dinners” originated at Fischer’s Hotel. Today’s Bavarian Inn chicken is a variation of those early dinners. Ever the perfectionist, Dorothy’s late husband Tiny began experimenting with the recipe, eventually changing from the original pan-fried hens to the lightly breaded, fried smaller birds that are served today. The success of Tiny’s experiment is evidenced in the nearly 350 tons of chicken served each year at the restaurant.

Like its predecessor, “From My Kitchen to Yours” contains a number of Bavarian Inn signature recipes that have never been published before. Priced at $24.99, the cookbook is available at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant and Castle Shops, Bavarian Inn Lodge, online or by phone. Anyone interested in ordering “From My Kitchen to Yours,” can call 1-800-BAVARIA or 989-652-9941, extension 3332 or order online at

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 Restaurant. Learn more at