Call of Leadership

The Call of Leadership

The Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn was hit, like many other restaurants, by Covid-19. Learn how they made tough decisions by adhering to their family creed. Also how to keep yourself safe while still having fun and dining out.

Show Notes:


Frankenmuth Convention and Visitor’s Bureau

Frankenmuth is one of the top tourist and family destinations in the state of Michigan.  Known throughout the world, this exciting city is known for creating wonderful memories for generations of people from all walks of life.  From retail shops, indoor dining to outdoor dining and outdoor sporting activities, there’s something for everyone at Michigan’s Little Bavarian.  Start planning your next trip at


Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:12] Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Call of Leadership podcast, where we interview people from our Michigan community who answered the call of leadership while here they’re powerful stories and get their advice so that we can be better leaders for ourselves, our families, and in our communities. I am your host Cliff DuVernois. Today’s guest is a fixture throughout the Michigan community. He was literally born into the service industry, both in a business sense and in the community sense, being a part of the Bavarian Inn Zehnder family, he started serving customers when he was still a small boy. And from there, he has grown into his current role that oversees the entire Bavarian Inn Zehnder family business. 

This includes the aforementioned Bavarian Inn, the Motor Lodge, the Leather Shop, the Cheese Shop and River Place.  

He also serves on the college advisory board and the board of fellows for SVSU as well as numerous other. Philanthropic causes. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the show, the president of the Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn Bill Zender. Bill, how are you?

Bill Zehnder: [00:01:18] I’m wonderful and yourself?

Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:20] I’m doing well. Thank you for asking. Why don’t you talk to us or tell us about what it was like to grow up in the restaurant business.

Bill Zehnder: [00:01:28] Well, I would say my first real memory was, as a young boy, I broke my foot. And I’m in maybe four or five years old, and I, was on a cart in the kitchen and my mother would roll me around as she was checking food and checking things in the kitchen. And, so we, fortunately, my mom was still alive at 98.

So we reminisce about that every once in a while that, you know, I had that little cart, so I’ve been in the. Our kitchen and in our restaurant other than college and the army for a couple of years. I’ve always been here in Frankenmuth and always enjoyed the hospitality industry, both for the guests that we interact with and of course our team members who are a crucial part of the success of our business.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:02:14] That’s true. And I know that growing up in the restaurant business, and this is something that your, your family has just been just an integral part of, especially throughout the Frankenmuth community. What was it like to follow in the footsteps of your parents.

Bill Zehnder: [00:02:31] Well, my, my dad was a, a great leader, an a, a, an exceptional listener. I mean, he would respect the opinions of our kids. And he’d listen and, would discern the best Avenue to go. He was inspirational and his ideas. My mom is the one that really, Was the, the model of work ethic. She would always be in the kitchen and had a passion for that.

And, and still does. She’s a little disappointed that she has with this Corona thing. Hasn’t had the opportunity to, to be in our kitchen much the last couple of months.  They were, role models as to how to run a business, but also role models as to how a husband and wife, interact with each other in business.

And my wife, Karen and I are fortunate that we’re 45 plus years marriage and work together. We had good role models in both her parents and my parents. And the importance of a good relationship with your, your spouse.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:31] Certainly, and I know that you’re heavily involved with education, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit, but what do you think is the real impact of having good role models? So being able to see, by example.

Bill Zehnder: [00:03:45] Well, you know, this, this podcast is about leadership. And you know, we have the opportunity to learn from leaders throughout history, whether it’s Abraham Lincoln. You know, how did he act? How did he think, how did he respond to issues? George Washington, Jesus Christ. I mean, you, you’ve got all. All the role models that we can look to and we can read about them, we can read autobiographies, we can learn from their behavior, and we can try and model that in some cases, learn what they did good.

I try not to make the same mistakes that they may have made or, and, and so I think that  the leadership. Is learning from others and continuing. Yet, you heard me have this little quote earlier about “Green and growing or ripe and rotting”, and I think it’s a, a leader has to continue to. research to look at new ways.

You know, I asked you a lot of questions about podcasts cause that’s not something that my generation, grew up with. But, you know, I hope to keep learning and, and from, from you and from other people and, and other leaders throughout history.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:04:56] That’s excellent. And I actually loved that answer because sitting on my bookshelf right now, it is probably half of my bookshelf is dedicated to biographies and autobiographies of not only the people that you mentioned earlier, but a lot of others.  Like sir Richard Branson or Andrew Carnegie, or Henry Ford, because I’m, I’m always interested in, these, these people throughout history that have achieved, great things.

So, I, I’m, I’m really glad that you spent some time, highlighting that. When you graduated from high school, you decided to, you’ve already staked your claim in the hospitality business. Why did you choose to go to Michigan state university to pursue your bachelor’s.

Bill Zehnder: [00:05:38] Well, Michigan state, had way back then, back in the sixties and seventies, their program was called a hotel or restaurant institutional management. Now it’s called the school of hospitality business. And that’s about all I knew or, you know, I, I always had a passion for other things like hunting and fishing and animals.

And I thought once about being a veterinarian, but, there’s a lot of science involved in that. And, and I was, I was better at cooking than I was at maybe dissecting it. And.  it was just kind of a natural fit for me. At the time when I decided on Michigan state, an uncle of mine, my dad’s brother, I was a college professor and taught at Michigan state.

By the time I got enrolled there, he had transferred to a different university, I think in either Tallahassee, Florida, or maybe it was in California. But, so we had had some affiliation and, and my sister Judy also went through that program. We’re, we’re pretty green and white in our family being there.

My wife has a degree from Michigan state and business also, and, and all four of our children have degrees there and a couple of master’s degrees coming out of there. So.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:06:47] Excellent. And so I’m going to, I’m going to challenge you a little bit on your, on your green and white there. cause I know you, I know you got your MBA from U of M. Why did you decide to chase your MBA?

Bill Zehnder: [00:06:59] A cousin of mine, who was a big U of M, law school guy, and I’m trying to, I can’t remember how it works. I got an education from Michigan state and a degree from U of M, sorry. something like that. But, you know, I got my MBA, I was quite a lot older. I mean, I was in my forties before I went back and did that.

And it was, I still feel very strong. It was a very good thing to do. I probably should have done it sooner  because it, I think, broadened my perspective a little bit and expanded my, vision and horizon.  I’ve always been real interested in education. I served on our local elementary school board on our school board.

I’ve been involved with Michigan state’s hospitality school for years now. I’m real involved with SVSU. I taught there for a couple of years back. And education is important to me and I think it’s should be important to everybody. I mean, as I said, you gotta be “Green and growing or ripe and rotting”, and you know, you gotta learn about education and, and.

And learn new things continually. Cause the world is always changing.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:08:02] You’re absolutely right. The world is constantly changing. What do you think the impact of having your bachelor’s having your master’s has had on running the Bavarian Zehnder family business?  

Bill Zehnder: [00:08:16] Well, I think that, you know, you, you, you learn the accounting, you learn the finance.  You learn the operations management and the human resource stuff, but it gives you a background. It doesn’t give you the total education for sure, but maybe it gives you the vocabulary that you can then, when you meet with consultants, whether it’s the CPAs that do our audits or whatever, you know, you can communicate with them because you understand what debits and credits are and assets and, you know, it gives you the foundation, but you still need to.

Really delve into the details in, in the operation of a business. And that comes with time and with, service. And the job.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:08:59] Sure. Sure. Excellent. And I know we’ve kind of hit on this a couple of times throughout the podcast. Then I’d like to do a little bit more of a deep dive. I know that you said that you’re heavily involved in education. You’ve been working a lot with SVSU. Why is that?

Bill Zehnder: [00:09:14] Wow. You know, SVSU is an asset to this community, to this region for sure. And it, I probably got real involved in the SVSU. Maybe it’s, what was it, 15 years ago? Maybe it’s 20 already. When they started to set up a program, it’s now called the Steven Center for Family Business where, about four or five times a year, they’ll have speakers that come in and we get to meet, we work with the different, family businesses in the great lakes Bay region.

it’s an excellent program and I was really involved in it. Way back when it started 1520 years ago, and you know, you term out of that. But, then I, I taught there for about four years and I taught, managing family business. And the reason, I guess I did that, I mean, it was time consuming and I didn’t like grading papers anymore than the students like writing them.

But I really enjoy the interaction with, with the college aged kids. And. All of our daughters had grown up and were out of college and, and so I didn’t have that stimulation from them anymore. And it, it, it was fun. I enjoyed it. And, It and they SVSU program that Stevens center for family businesses is very viable.

My niece, Martha right now is the chairman of that committee and their, their staff there has connected with the university and it’s a, it’s a real asset. and I’ve got to meet a lot of the different families in this area. The, the, the, From glass tender that, that family, the people from York electric and Bay City, the, the Hausbeck pickle people.

And, and it’s, it’s really,  you know, of these different family businesses, but you don’t really have close interaction with them as we’ve been able to do. SVSU program.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:11:04] Now, throughout your time at the SVSU and teaching, and a lot of it. Well, I’m sure that it’s probably an equal balance of theoretical plus real world experiences. Cause you, you have lived this, you know, basically all your life was there. Was there any time throughout the class periods where, you know, you shared a lesson with somebody and.

They came back to you and said, “You know what, Bill, I’m so glad you shared that with us because we were struggling with that in our business, or we were able to,  use your knowledge to move our business forward.” Was there any kind of interaction like that.

Bill Zehnder: [00:11:39] Probably one of the things that, that. Stood out the most in that involvement way back when is when our daughter, Amy was in college. So she’s the oldest daughter, so she’s 43 now, and she was a good writer. So as a family, we decided that we needed to write a family creed.  Amy was the editor, but you know, all the different family members, my sister Judy and my wife Karen, and my mom and dad. This creed, basically, it was a document that we would share with the next generation of our family as to what we feel the values are, what is important to us as a business.

Why do we think that you should act and behave in this way? And it’s had a lot of detail kind of things in there. Like, you know, we expected them to get up a four year degree in something and, and to work someplace else for a couple of years before they came back to work for the family businesses.  Stay away from drugs and alcohol and, and, and all kinds of different stuff.

So when the Steven center for family business started up and, and we had the opportunity to share our family creed with other families as they were developing that. And when, when we wrote our family creed, we borrowed a lot of the information from some printing company in Ann Arbor. I can’t even remember what the name of the company was.

I had conversations with the guy and you know, it’s, you learn from other people. And what did they do and what is relevant for your family and what’s relevant for your industry and your business. And so it’s been fun sharing with the different, different families what works and they’ve shared back with us as to what works on process-based leadership is, a system that we  document and keep track of. Different objectives throughout the years, and so it’s been a good experience.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:13:33] That’s excellent. I’ve, I’ve actually never heard of that before, so I’m going to have to dig into that a little bit more after this, after this podcast episode is over. But I really do appreciate the fact that you and your family actually sat down to, to document and to write down that those values that  you hold dear, because I think the values.

That you have personally are also the values that help steer your company through the good times and the bad times. Would you agree with that statement?

Bill Zehnder: [00:14:03] Yeah. It’s now, you know, in bad times, like we’re experiencing right now that you have to go back to, okay, what’s important to us? What are my personal values? What is our corporate values? what’s our purpose? And you, you gotta be grounded in those, Pillars. As you continue to think about how we move forward and how we continue to operate a business. One of our philosophies, you know, a lot of times in businesses, some of them want to to build it up and sell it, spin it off or close it or, or whatever. You ask about my mom and dad and years ago they went to a seminar and they came back. And with a little plaque, and it’s still down in Tiny’s room, which is my dad’s name of the, this business shall continue forever. So that, that’s a pretty strong statement. So what do we do to make sure this business continues forever?

And it’s not something that we take lightly.  It’s a longterm focus that we have. And yeah.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:15:01] Yeah, and I agree with that because it seems like  in the time that I spent in Southern California. Every time that you, I would get involved with a business, someone would always say, okay, so if we’re going to start a business, what’s our exit strategy? And I’m always thinking to myself, we haven’t even made one sale yet, and you guys are already talking about how you’re going to sell the business.

I mean. I, you know, I was confused by that. I’m, I’ve always been a longterm play kind of guy. as far as, you know, what I build, I want to make sure that it’s going to be here a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now, 50 years from now, ideally. 

Speaking of making sure that your, your business is moving forward is going to be there in the longterm.

I know that, that your kids have become heavily involved with the business as well. For you, what is it like knowing that your kids are becoming a very instrumental part in growing the, the Bavarian Inn Zehnder family business.

 Bill Zehnder: [00:15:56] Who is the general manager of the Bavarian Inn restaurant? An exceptional leader in and of herself. she’s done a phenomenal job as leading the rest of our team through all the decisions that we need to make  on a day in and day out basis with the, this Corona virus thing.

And I’m very proud of, of her and the work she’s done. And, she’s a bright, intelligent,  Mother also, I mean, she’s got two kids, two grandkids that, we’re finally getting to see a little bit again.  Our younger daughter, Karen and I, my wife and I have four daughters. Two of them  are involved in the business.

our younger daughter just had a baby here a year ago now, so she  is more involved in the marketing and the retail operation of our business, but there’s about 10 years difference in age between the two. Then my, my sister Judy, two of her children are also involved in our operation. Michael Keller Zehnder and Martha.

 It’s heartwarming because  if we want to say this business shall continue forever,  we need to have somebody that’s a taken over or after. Judy and I, as you know, we’re, we’re not spring chickens anymore either. And we gotta make sure that, we perpetuate this business by training and developing and supporting them in their activities and endeavors.

And there their challenges that befall.

  Cliff Duvernois: [00:18:17] Sure. And speaking of challenges, I know that right now we’re in the middle of this, stay at home mandate. businesses are closed, restaurants and bars are closed, and within the next few weeks we’re, we’re set to start having those. Restrictions lifted so people can start going out. And I know one of the things that my fiance and I talk about quite a bit is where we’re going to go, you know, cause we, we miss going out to dinner.

We miss those little things. And from yourself, because. I know with your family actually running a restaurant, a key restaurant in the Frankenmuth area, what are  three key things that people should be aware of if they’re going to go out and dine out with their families and yet be able to feel safe about doing so.

Bill Zehnder: [00:19:02] Well, I think that, you know, we, we’ve got about a 40 page document that we put together on protocols for our team and,  whether it’s face mask. Skin health. And, and so I think when, when guests start coming back, they, they should wear a mask,  to, to protect themselves, to protect our team.

And I think that they should be extremely appreciative of the team members who are here.  you know, they haven’t been working for two months. Maybe it’s going to be three by the time we get all through with this.  And I don’t think, you know, we’re, we’re trying to figure out, there are shortages of some foods,  some food products that, you know, what’s our menu going to look like?

It, it might change, daily because we don’t have some products. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:19:47] that’s

Bill Zehnder: [00:19:47] maybe, maybe the guests have to be a little bit more understanding that it isn’t going to be exactly like it was.  We’re going to try and be as hospitable as we can, but it’s a little hard to see the facial expression on your waitress as she comes to the table when she’s got a mask on.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:20:04] that’s true.

Bill Zehnder: [00:20:06] So we’re, we’re trying to work through all these things and, and expect to add that happen.  You read stories about the conflicts that some people are having as they go into different bars or, or their dollar store and they shoot somebody. I mean, it just crazy. so, you know, be respectful of the, the hospitality employee that you’re greeting.

they’re having a. Challenges themselves and their family and their personal lives. We’re all going to be doing the absolute best job that we can with the circumstances that are before us. And, you know, we’ve been in the hospitality industry a long time, and my father and grandfather had experienced different, okay.

Business crises over the years. But as I just read something a day or so ago that you know, especially leaders often than when you’re evaluating yourself and what you’re doing and you know, the question is asked, well, where do you see yourself in five years? What do you see yourself doing? Well, five years ago, nobody saw themselves dealing with what we’re dealing now.

So that’s why you got to have solid values. You’ve got to have solid principles. You gotta have an inner purpose for your, your business and for yourself and fall back on those, and that’ll get you through it.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:21:26] Yes. Even to that. And I know that, as it’s going up and, and yourself, just like a lot of other businesses out there are going to be really doing your best to make sure that you take care of your guests. So, as, as we wrap up this interview, if I named member of our audience wants to connect with you or following anything that you’re doing online, what would be the best way for them to do that?

Bill Zehnder: [00:21:48] You know, they can go to a That’s our website. And you know, we monitor that continually. You know, I’m bill Zender, they can contact me. I’m not a real big Facebook guy. So, some of the social media stuff, I’m learning how to use it and do it. this is the first zoom meeting I’ve had where I haven’t been live on zoom, so it’s a little different. Well, you know, I’ve been adapting I think, pretty well to the, the technology. So yeah, they can just contact the and we’ll, we’ll get back in touch with them.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:22:21] Excellent. Thank you so much for your time today, Bill. I know you’re very busy, especially with everything that is going on right now, but you know, thank you once again for your time today. I really do appreciate it.

Bill Zehnder: [00:22:33] You bet. And you know, Cliff, when you’re ready to come back, to restaurants and we’re ready to open, and you and your fiance want to do that, of course, come see me here at the Bavarian Inn. I’d love to meet you in person and do, do an elbow bump. If we can’t do a handshake.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:22:45] you know what, bill, I’m looking forward to that I really am, and we’re definitely going to make that happen, so thank you very much.

Bill Zehnder: [00:22:52] Okay. Sounds good. Have a great day.