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.”