EXPLORE MICHIGAN: Frankenmuth, ‘the Christmas city’


FRANKENMUTH, Mich. (WLNS) — People travel from across the country to experience Frankenmuth, better known as the Christmas city, not only for it’s German roots, but also it’s delicious cuisine.

“What a better time than Christmas time to celebrate the families,” John Shelton, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Zehnder’s said.

Zehnder’s is a restaurant in Frankenmuth, also known as little Bavaria. The restaurant is known for it’s family style chicken dinner.

“You can get a chicken dinner somewhere else, but we think with all the things we create is why people are willing to drive an hour and a half just to be a part of Frankenmuth, and be a part of what we call the Zehnder’s experience,” Shelton said.

Zehnder’s first opened its doors in 1929, serving 312 people for only $1 each. Today the restaurant serves about a million people on an annual basis.

What people really enjoy being a part of is the Christmas experience that goes right along with the theme of Frankenmuth.

“During the Christmas season we have 10 different dining rooms,” Shelton said. “Each dining room is uniquely decorated in the Christmas spirit.”

The building draws people in with it’s architecture that replicates the style of Mount Vernon.

“Well you know it has a really colonial feel,” Shelton said. “In fact, if you look at the front of the building, my wife’s grandfather who started the business, William Zehnder, he was a big George Washington fan.”

Along with the atmosphere, Zehnder’s has a plethora of foods to choose from, including sides that feature all the fixings.

“I mean the staple is the family style chicken dinners, all you can eat chicken, mashed potatoes, dressing, butter noodles, cottage cheese, seasonal relish and so on and so forth,” Shelton said. “We always say if you go home hungry, it’s your own fault.” 

Lance Buchinger has been the sous-chef at Zehnder’s for 13 years. He says on an average weekend, they cook 1,300 chickens.

“I think when people see the spread, the array and amount of food on the table, I think it’s just something special,” Buchinger said.

Shelton and Buchinger said they see several families come to Zehnder’s to ring in the holidays.

“Zehnder’s has always been keen on creating memories and we like to say making memories one family at a time,” Shelton said.

The traditional German food is only one part to the ultimate Frankenmuth experience.

“We have 40-plus shops and attractions here at the Frankenmuth River Place Shops,” Katie Zehnder Weiss, Retail and Marketing at the River Place Shops and Bavarian Inn Restaurant said. “And it’s a variety of shopping options for everybody in the family.”

Zehnder Weiss’s family built the Frankenmuth River Place Shops in 2000, when she was in high school.

“I worked grounds here when we first opened,” Zehnder Weiss said.

She believes there is something special for everyone in the family. Zehnder Weiss says they find items for their shops that are different that you can’t find at every big box store.

“We have clothing, gifts, lots of gifts, we have wine the Blackstar Farms is right behind us,” Zehnder Weiss said. “We have different wine tasting options, there is some popcorn and lots of different specialty foods like jerky.”

The Bavarian-style city takes pride in its community and focus’s on bringing the Christmas cheer to all.

“It’s a very exciting time for us here in Frankenmuth, Christmas has kind of been reinvigorated, it’s always been a big part of our town….But there has been big emphasis on Christmas this year, there has been more lights, more fun, more activities, including our ice skating rink that is new in town as well.”

Katie Zehnder Weiss, retail and marketing at the River Place Shops and Bavarian Inn Restaurant

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