Frankenmuth: The tale of two chicken dinners

This is the tale of two Chicken Dinners. Starting with Fischer's Hotel and....Lumberjacks?

"Before they went to bed, Mrs. Fischer, they would call her Ma Fischer, would prepare dinner for them." says Dorothy Zehnder.

Then the Zehnders founder appropriated the idea in a genius move.

"My grandfather's business plan was really simple: if we can just get the overflow from Fischers, we can make a go of it," says Al Zehnder. "That was beginning of Zehnders. We opened on Mothers Day of 1929 with that simple plan."

And then, another Zehnder took over Fischers hotel and renamed it 'Bavarian Inn.'

"There were two brothers, and they were very close with each other. They got along real well and as we all marry and the in-laws came in, it's surprising we get along real well," says Dorothy. "We belong to the same church."

The Zehnder clan occupy competing - but friendly - sides in the Chicken Wars.

"We get along real well," says Dorothy.

"You're telling me there's no family rumbles in the middle of the street with chicken legs?" asked Jason Carr.

"No way," answered Dorothy.

So what makes these chicken dinners so special?

"We start with soup, we have three cold sides, a liver pate that we make in house. All the cold sides we make inhouse, except for the cottage cheese. And then all the hot food comes," says Al. "Chicken, grandma's stuffing, mashed potatoes, noodles, crushed vegetables, gravy and desert. It's a beginning to end kind of meal, that is shared among the family which is sort of a communal dinner, that is modeled after meals that were served in the farm many many years ago."

The similar but still unique Bavarian Inn is still geared toward old-world traditional German dishes, hence Bavarian Inn.

"They can expect a wonderful family style chicken dinner with all the trimmings, plus we also have German entrees," says Dorothy. "Wiener schnitzel, sauer braut, custler redpin, bratwurst, you name it, we got it."

If Bavarian Inn is like a cook book, then Zehnders is like early Americana meets German efficiency with the food prep line that operates smooth as gravy.

"Good food well prepared. That's our secret," says the executive head chef. 

"Our roots are early American with the exterior of our building being early American," says Al "Our costume servers are dressed early American. That all comes from my Grandfathers who was a big fan of George Washington and one of the first things he did was remodel the building to resemble Mount Vernon"

Both restaurants have the downstairs gift shops with the usual chotchkies and sweets and knick knack souvenirs. But here again there are differences. In Zehnders seasonal gift shop, you can't escape the baked delights wafting from the bakery next door.

"European pastries, traditional donuts, cakes, pies, fresh every day."

Back across the street Dorothy's son Bill shows me on a map of all of the Michigan towns that supply the restaurant with it's ingredients, vegetables, meat, fruit, beer, smelt, you name it. Plus:

"After we take our used chicken shortening and make bio-diesel out of it, just for this restaurant here," says Bill Zehnder. "We say we use more Michigan agricultural products at the Bavarian Inn than any other restaurant in the world."

Obviously if you drive from metro detroit, you're making a whole day or more out of Frankenmuth so the thorough traveler would be well served to check out both destinations; Zehnders and Bavarian Inn. After all, all you have to do is walk across the street.  
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