Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth is one of six recipients of the James Beard Foundation’s 2020 America’s Classics Award, which is given to locally owned restaurants that have timeless appeal and are beloved regionally for quality food that reflects the character of their community. Per the foundation, “Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, a chicken dinner behemoth positioned between Detroit and Michigan’s summer lake destination, is decidedly on the beaten path. William Zehnder Sr. and his wife, Emilie, bought a former hotel in 1928.

Today the restaurant—part of a complex, run by third- and fourth-generation family members, that includes a hotel, waterpark and golf course—can accommodate 1,500 guests and brings in close to a million people each year. Road-trippers come for family-style meals of crisp-skinned fried chicken, dressing, mashed potatoes, liver pâté, cranberry relish, cottage cheese and more, all replenished until worn-out diners signal they’re ready for a scoop of sherbet with a paper American flag planted alongside the maraschino cherry. Then it’s time to pose for photos with a patient mascot in a rooster suit.”

When executed safely, in-person meetings and events are possible. But it’s been tough for meeting planners across the nation, due to differing state-by-state and even county-by-county guidelines. In some areas, meetings and events have returned a while ago, but for others, it’s hard to imagine what planning a meeting would be like.

 

Dorothy Hecht was just 16 years old in 1937 when she waited on her first table at what was then Fischer’s Restaurant in downtown Frankenmuth, and ecstatically earned her first 25-cent tip. When she met and eventually married William “Tiny” Zehnder, whose family owned Zehnder’s Restaurant across the street, her happiness continued, and a legacy began.

 

Most often thought of as a leisure travel destination, Frankenmuth—with its distinctive German flair—is also one of the state’s top locales for corporate events. Dubbed “Little Bavaria” in the early 1950s, this town is rich with tradition, culture, family heritage and plenty of unique spaces and activities for groups of all sizes.