- Associated Press - Sunday, March 20, 2016

FRANKENMUTH, Mich. (AP) - If you’ve stopped for a night at the Bavarian Inn Lodge in Frankenmuth, you aren’t alone.

The lodge, one of the anchor attractions in Frankenmuth, Michigan’s “Little Bavaria,” celebrates its 30th year in business in 2016 and has served as an overnight stopping point for millions of guests since then.

To commemorate the milestone, The Saginaw News (https://bit.ly/22dAJ89 ) is sharing seven things you might not know about the Bavarian Inn and the family behind the enterprise.


Martha Zehnder Keller, vice president of sales and marketing for the Bavarian Inn Lodge, said the Bavarian Inn Lodge has about 200,000 overnight guests each year. That doesn’t include guests who come just to eat and play there.

“We have a lot of guests that just come, have dinner at Oma’s (restaurant), go to brunch, play the video games,” she said.

Some guests return again and again. One family, in particular, stays at Bavarian Inn Lodge every month, Zehnder Keller said.

“We estimate over the 30 years we have had 5.7 million people stay overnight at the Lodge,” she said.


Zehnder Keller said it cost about $30 million to build the original hotel, which has undergone a series of renovations and expansions. About $40 million more has been invested in the hotel since it opened.

“We have had a total of seven phases, major construction phases,” she said.

In total, those seven phases, including the original construction, represent a total investment of about $70 million.


Walk through the Lodge’s “Hall of Fame” and you’ll find framed newspaper clippings, awards and family photos, including some Zehnder Keller describes as “awkward teenage pictures.”

Photos of celebrities and politicians who have visited the lodge through the years also are on display. A few famous visitors include Hillary Clinton, Gov. Rick Snyder and Miss USA Kenya Moore.


Zehnder Keller said the Bavarian Inn Lodge was Frankenmuth’s first full-service hotel.

“There were a few motels, but this was the very first hotel that had breakfast, lunch, dinner, (and a) pool,” she said.

What is now called Bavarian Inn Restaurant, located near the lodge, opened in 1888 as Fischer’s Hotel.

But the word “hotel” was used more loosely back then. Even though it was called a “hotel,” it was primarily a restaurant that happened to have a few guest rooms, Zehnder Keller explained.


The yoke used by oxen that helped build the iconic covered wooden bridge over the Cass River in Frankenmuth hangs in the hotel lobby.

Decorative woodwork throughout the hotel was hand carved by a craftsman from Germany.

Look closely at the floor while playing a round of miniature golf and you might find Zehnder family members’ handprints, including Zehnder Kellers’, pressed into the cement.

Guests also will find banquet rooms named after famous German composers Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart, German street signs and other items brought over from Germany.

“We wanted it to be as authentic as possible,” Zehnder Keller said.


Zehnder Keller said the Zehnder family is comprised of “Zehnder’s Zehnders” and “Bavarian Inn Zehnders.”

“We all were one corporation at one time, at Zehnder’s Restaurant, the big white building,” Zehnder Keller said. “My grandmother (Dorothy Zehnder) and grandfather (William “Tiny” Zehnder Jr.) then went over and had Bavarian Inn Restaurant. We were still one corporation at that time.”

When the Bavarian Inn Lodge was built three decades ago, the two businesses separated.

“We did not have any big family feud. …No chicken being thrown across Main Street or anything like that,” she joked. “But, actually, it was in order for us to get a tax-free finance loan.”

“That is the reason, the true reason, why Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s are now two separate companies.”

How can customers and visitors tell the two companies apart?

“If it has a colonial look and a colonial feel, then it’s a Zehnder’s property. They wear the bonnets, the knickers,” Zehnder Keller said. “We wear, obviously, the German dress, the dirndls. We have the German architecture and things of that nature.”


In addition to 360 guest rooms, the Bavarian Inn Lodge features restaurants, gift shops, a conference center, miniature golf and an arcade with more than 150 games.

Overnight guests can swim in four indoor pools, including an adults-only pool and a toddler play pool, a 15-foot waterfall and two waterslides.

There’s karaoke from 7 to 11 p.m. every Friday and Saturday in the Ratskeller of the Bavarian Inn Lodge, which offers beer and malt beverages, pizza and more.


Information from: The Saginaw News, https://www.mlive.com/saginaw

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