Leaves a long legacy of service to the Frankenmuth community and Michigan hospitality industry


Dorothy Zehnder, beloved matriarch of the Bavarian Inn Zehnder family, died at her home in Frankenmuth on Sunday, July 9, with members of her family by her side.  She was a lifelong member of St. Lorenz Lutheran Church.

Zehnder spent more than 85 years working behind the scenes and as the visible face of the well-known Bavarian Inn family and the many community and business operations under their name. She was born on December 1, 1921, in Reese, Michigan, 10 miles north of Frankenmuth.

Funeral services will be held at St. Lorenz Lutheran Church. Details will be released later by her family. She will be buried at St. Lorenz Cemetery alongside her husband of 63 years, William “Tiny” Zehnder, who passed away in 2006. Donations may be made to St. Lorenz Church or to Frankenmuth City Beautification.

Dorothy is survived by her brother Ray Hecht, two children, Bill (Karen) Zehnder and Roxie (Jerry) Westgate, and her son-in-law Don Keller as well 10 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by her husband, William “Tiny” Zehnder, her sister Edna (Hecht) Hegenauer, and her daughter Judy Zehnder Keller.

The family released the following statement:

“We mourn the passing of our beloved mother, grandmother, and family matriarch. We extend our thanks for the support from the Frankenmuth community and ask that you help us remember Dorothy for the amazing woman she was and who will remain in our hearts. Our family will continue to uphold the spirit of Dorothy and her legacy to this community.”


Dorothy left her mark on this world for over a century and will be missed. She was a true Michigan icon in how she lived her life personally, professionally, and spiritually.


A Humble Servant Leader

Dorothy’s hospitality and business acumen made her a civic leader, educator, author, and mentor, using her talents with many different restaurants, tourism, governmental, religious, and philanthropic organizations. A humble servant leader is an excellent way to describe Dorothy Zehnder. Even when she was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer at age 98, she fought against it to continue giving back to her community.

With over a century of life experience, Dorothy lived through Prohibition, Great Depression, and multiple wars. She saw everything from man landing on the moon to people driving electric cars. All the technological advances from when she started working in 1937 to today helped her develop the Bavarian Inn’s philosophy of “working efficiently old fashioned” as she embraced new trends throughout her life.

Dorothy co-founded the Bavarian Inn with William “Tiny” Zehnder in 1950. She preferred staying out of the spotlight, leaving the promotion to Tiny while she worked in the “back of the house.” She developed most of the recipes used in the restaurant and taught tens of thousands of employees over 70 years the correct method to prepare all the foods served in the 12 dining rooms that seat 1,200 guests.

At full employment, the Bavarian Inn Corporation has approximately 1,000 employees, serves thousands of people in a day and about 900,000 meals annually, and ranks in the top 50 most prominent family-run restaurants in the U.S. Dorothy’s children and their spouses, along with her grandchildren – a total of seven family members – work every day to continue the success story of the Bavarian Inn.

Today the Bavarian Inn Zehnder family’s diverse array of businesses includes the Bavarian Inn Restaurant and Castle Shops, Bavarian Inn Lodge, Frankenmuth River Place Shops, Covered Bridge Shop, Frank’s Muth, Frankenmuth Cheese Haus, Bavarian Bleachers, a specialty line of food products, and an online store. The family also runs the William and Dorothy Zehnder Foundation.


The next generations have plans for continued development of Tiny and Dorothy Zehnder’s legacy.


Cookbook Author and Honoree

A 2020 Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame inductee and recipient of the Saginaw Lifetime Achievement Award, Dorothy is also the author of three sold-out cookbooks, “Cookies and Bars” published in 1986, “Come Cook with Me,” published in 2011, and the follow-up “From My Kitchen to Yours,” published in 2014. Her cookbook “Come Cook with Me” is filled with stories about Dorothy, cooking, her family, and the German-themed restaurant they created.

In 2013 Dorothy received the Outstanding Achievement in Michigan Tourism award from the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association (MLTA) which recognizes the person who “Serves to promote, protect and grow Michigan tourism to the benefit of all industry segments and our state’s economy.” In addition, the Detroit chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) also recognized Dorothy in 2013 as one of its Top 10 Michigan Business Women.

About Bavarian Inn Restaurant: Celebrating 135 years of service, the Bavarian Inn Restaurant has become a Michigan landmark. Generations of diners, lodgers, and tourists from around the globe have discovered genuine Bavarian hospitality in this 1,200-seat restaurant thanks to the late Dorothy and 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 most outstanding selection of German beer. Bavarian Inn also prides itself on being one of the top consumers of Pure Michigan agricultural products, striving to serve more Michigan-grown and produced foods and Michigan-produced beverages than any other restaurant. Nestled within the 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 www.bavarianinn.com.

About Bavarian Inn Lodge: For over 37 years, nestled along the banks of the Cass River in Frankenmuth, it has been one of the state’s largest indoor water park hotels. The Lodge, currently managed by the 4th generation Bavarian Inn family members, has 360 European-themed guest rooms, including whirlpool and family suites, an adult-only pool and whirlpool, two gift shops, two lounges, and two restaurants — all under one roof. The expansive 35,000 square-foot Family Fun Center houses two thrilling water slides, three pools, two whirlpools, over 160 video games, a two-level children’s play village, and Willy’s Kingdom indoor mini-golf course. Guests can also enjoy live, nightly entertainment year-round and test their musical skills during weekend family karaoke shows. Banquet facilities can accommodate events for 2-500 guests to enjoy Old World Charm with modern technology and delicious meals. In over 37 years of business, the Bavarian Inn Lodge has been an essential destination for travelers, evidenced by the 2.5 million room nights booked there since its opening and its top rating on TripAdvisor®. Learn more at www.bavarianinn.com.

Bavarian Inn Restaurant online press room: https://bavarianinn.logos-communications.com/

Bavarian Inn Lodge online press room: https://bavarianinnlodge.logos-communications.com


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