Al Zehnder is the third generation of his family business the Zender’s of Frankenmuth. We talk about how the family business helps cultivate leaders to carry this multi-generational business forward. We also talk about going above for customer service.
- Zehnders of Frankenmuth Website (Click Here)
- Zehnders of Frankenmuth Facebook (Click Here)
- Listen to this great interview with John Shelton about Zehnder’s Snowfest!
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 Frankenmuth.org.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:13] ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the call of leadership podcasts, where we’ve talked a bit, those in our Michigan community who answered the call of leadership will hear their stories and get their advice so that we can be better leaders for ourselves, our families and our community. I am your host Cliff DuVernois.
And today we’ve got the unique privilege of talking to the man who is. In charge basically of the Zehnders of Frankenmuth, a family business. They seem to have their fingers in a lot of different pies. This would be the CEO Al Zehnder, Al how are you?
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:00:46] I’m doing great Cliff. Thanks for being here today and coming to Frank with, I appreciate the opportunity.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:50] Yeah, well, well, there’s one thing I love and it’s definitely coming to Frankenmuth. So tell us a little bit about where you’re from, where you grew up.
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:00:57] I grew up in Frankenmuth. I mean, I was born and raised here. I was born and raised in the, in this industry. I started at 14 years old and in the, in the kitchen.
So I started on the hotline. We call it where we dish all of our hot food. And I worked just about every position within the organization. except I was never a server. Yeah. When I was coming through the business, it was even pre mail server days. So now we have about a 50, 50 mix of male and female servers, but never did that, but it worked as a bartender, all the positions in the front of the back of the house.
even in, in the accounting, as I, as I grew and went through college, worked in the accounting function. So I’ve done just about everything within the, within the restaurant business. Yeah.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:38] That’s awesome. And I want to make sure that I go back and explore that, in, in just a little bit, where did you go to college?
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:01:45] I went to Valparaiso university in Valparaiso, Indiana. It was a as far away as I could get with my father’s blessing. And it was a great experience, a small, private school in Northwest corner of Indiana. Yeah,
Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:58] what did you study when you were there?
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:02:00] I actually, I was, going for a double major. My major is actually sociology, but I, I was just an inch away from, from, getting a, another major in business.
but, I had been there for four and a half years and I knew my dad needed help back here. So I came back in 1976 and I’ve been here ever since.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:02:17] What is it? What attracted you to go into sociology?
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:02:21] You know, I, I just. It spoke to me about having to work with people and understanding people. And that’s really with the hospitality industry is all about you.
It’s about working with people and, and, I found that in, in college, I took the classes that I really felt that I was learning something. I loved marketing classes. I loved, I loved the, the whole social, a social aspect of, of the sociology curriculum that we went through. And, and I could really apply it here.
I mean, accounting is accounting and, you know, I felt kind of bored in accounting and, but I was, felt more energized when I got into the more, I’d say the creative end of business. And, and for me, marketing and sociology courses were. Really what turned me on at school.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:02] Excellent. And you made a comment about how, when after about four and a half years of school, you just, you decided that you needed to come back because your father needed to help. And we’re talking about Eddie sender.
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:03:11] Eddie Zehnder. Yeah. I mean, Eddie Zehnder was my dad. He, he was, I would say the other half of that business relationship was Tiny Z. That was sort of a match made in business. Having a tiny was across the road at Bavarian end. And my dad, Eddie, ran transgenders and they remained, friends.
And, of course they were brothers traveled together and they, they taught us a lot about business. And, you know, what’s important about business. What’s not important about business and they never argued about a dime than they, And they, they built these two businesses together individually, but yet together.
And, there were really three, three prongs to the year or three legs to the stool of Frankenmuth, tourism that was Eddie Zehnder. Tinies tender and Wally Brunner who developed Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. Yeah.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:54] and that’s really good. And I do, and I know I said this before, but I want to circle back to that.
But before we jump into that, what I would love to do is I, I, we really like to take a trip back in time and talk about when Zehnder’s first started. And actually it wasn’t Zehnders. This was, this was the
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:04:10] exchange hotel, and we trace our roots to 1856. so we go back a long time. That’s pre civil war days.
So in 1856, that’s just 11 years after Frankenmuth was founded. the exchange hotel was built. And it went through a number of, of different owners. And in, in 1908, it was, it was rebuilt and it was called the new exchange hotel. And if you look at the exterior of our building, that’s that center portion that is in between our North and South wings still we’re sitting in and part of the original structure as it was in 1908.
And it went through a number of owners, From 1908 until 1928, when my grandfather purchased it in, December of 1928. And of course, like every restaurant tour, he, first thing he did was remodel the place, you know, and he put on a different front. So the, the big pillars that you’ll see on the front, he was a fan of George Washington.
And so he, he re modeled it after, Mount Vernon and I was going through a Smithsonian magazine, Oh, some time ago. And there was a story in there about, George Washington and Mount Vernon flip the page. And I, it took my breath away. It’s because I’m looking at Mount Vernon, it, Oh my gosh. The detail that my grandfather put on the front of this building and how it matched mountain Vernon was.
Pretty remarkable. And so there had to be some, some research. I mean, if you think back in 1928, I don’t know how you did the research. Then if you go to a library or whatever it is, but, and we opened then on mother’s day of 1929, and we serve 312 people, at a dollar, a piece on mother’s day. And we always looked at, at mother’s day is sort of our founders day.
And, so it’s, it took off from there. Probably wasn’t a worst time to start a business then a 1929. I mean, you’re on the doorstep of the depression. of course prohibition full swing and yeah, in the latter years of prohibition, my grandfather and, Herman Fisher across the street, which was an operating business called fishers hotel, were.
Arrested by federal agents for serving beer to a, an agent that had come all the way up here from Detroit. And I don’t know why they picked Frankenmuth. I don’t know why they picked Zanders and, and what was then fishers, but, between my grandfather, Williams under sr and Herman Fisher, they received the two largest fines.
Ever levied during prohibition, which is pretty remarkable. When you think, I mean, you had these rum runners in, in Detroit, you had Al Capone in Chicago. but the two largest fines were levied right here in, in Frankenmuth, Michigan during prohibition. And not only that they had to. agree to, smash their bars.
And so federal agents came in and that destroyed their bars. My grandfather was fined $5,000 in Herman Fisher was fine. $8,000
Cliff Duvernois: [00:06:54] is a lot of money back
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:06:55] is a lot of money. And, we, we survived that, and, After, after prohibition, of course. And you get through the early 1940s, you know, you’re going to a world war. So my dad and, yeah, a number of his brothers, they went off to war and left my, my grandmother and my grandfather back here to run the business.
but after the war, it, it really took off. they came back and, Detroit was putting America on wheels. Tourism started in, In Michigan, people were traveling and we really captured that traveling guy as they were coming up from Detroit, coming through Frankenmuth, that was really kind of the Genesis.
And people started to recognize, the value of the traveling of the traveling public. And it really. I think dawned on Frankenmuth. And certainly I think, between, in our family that, well, there’s something here and as we expanded and as we tried different things, it just, it just seemed to work.
And I don’t know that there was any grand plan, but I think that they were opportunists and entrepreneurial in their spirit and they took, took advantage of this and, you know, And then as, as things progressed in the 1950s and sixties and, and runners came, came online and, and then other little shops along main street, and the chamber was always very, very supportive and everybody was in sort of lacks step to, to grab this and seize this opportunity in 1959, we were still operating as same business and, we felt that there.
Probably should be some differentiation between Zehnders and Fischers and the early architectural change to the Bavarian architecture came in 1959. And that grand opening of what was then renamed the Bavaria. And then there was a huge party, a grand opening. And that was the beginning of the Bavarian festival, which continued to them.
It was canceled this year because of the pandemic, but you know, like everything else, but then it, It just took off in the past. Friggin festival was held every year and that really grew. And, and it was one of Michigan’s earliest festivals. You know, now there’s every, every little town has a, has a festival, but the Bavarian festival was one of the very, very early ones along with the Holland tulip festival.
And, you know, that grew again. And I think people saw the opportunity and the impact of festivals, you know, and, and, and gosh, this is really an attractor and a soap. You know that that happened. And as, as our businesses grew and we really grew during the 19, 1970s, our whole Lord level, 1970s and eighties, our whole lower level of, of shops and dining spaces.
And our, our bakery are called Zehnders marketplace. We sell like tier one products, our smaller cafes, the chefs cafe, is down there. that expansion all happened in the eighties. In addition to getting into golf. We got into the golf about 19, I think it was 1984 or so. And, it, it’s a small little sleepy, nine hole golf course, Franklin golf and country club.
And I didn’t know anything about golf and, you know, we didn’t know, we didn’t know what, what we were getting into, but we got into golf and, that’s really, when it really started. We didn’t start it, but the Gulf boom in Michigan was starting. It was these championship courses, like the bear and all the courses that surround Gaillard.
I mean, it was, people were seeing that there’s an opportunity here. I mean, there’s an opportunity for golf and, That same, a year later we got into lodging, we bought a small hotel, just, South of us by Brunner’s called, was then called the Bavarian house a motel. And we ran that for a number of years.
We, we shut the golf course down for a bout 18 months. And, as we had acquired land to expand to 18 holds and. We, took a position that we wanted to really raise the bar and we opened the fortress in 1992, renamed it, the fortress, and it’s a really a gorgeous, championship level level golf course and, place a high priority and the maintenance of that facility with, you know, macular greens, tees and fairways.
it’s a, it’s a tough course, but it’s fun. It’s it’s I was out there not too long ago. It’s gorgeous. And, About 15, 15 years ago, we, we took a, another look at how do we want to position ourselves in lounging and, the great Wolf lodge organizations and some of these, facilities where we’re looking at, indoor water parks as a, as, as a draw for lodging.
And we re. Research that tirelessly and figured out, gosh, you know, this is something I think that really fits into our market. We, we had shifted our marketing a bit to really focus on families
Cliff Duvernois: [00:11:28] Yes.
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:11:29] and, and our, our, our general theme that developed in about the 1990s was we really want it to be a four season family vacation destination.
That was sort of the overarching goal. And we looked at the indoor water park industry as something that really fit. And it would also. We anticipated that we could introduce a whole new generation of, of diners to back to Xander’s restaurant, by selling packages and, and you know, getting a whole new generation of people introduced to the family style, chicken dinner.
So it, we did that and it, it was just a fabulous addition to our, our, our facility when we added a. Our first phase. And now I think it’s five or six years ago. We added, the phase two, which we call atrium park, which is a completely retractable roof over the, the water park. And then two years ago, we went back to phase one and worked with our, our vendor that developed a, that first park for us.
We call it splash park and put a retractable roof over, over that as well, completely tore the roof off and then put a retractable roof. And then it’s just really changed the character of, of that facility. And it’s a great, just a great family venue and it’s been very, very successful for us.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:12:43] And I’m glad to hear you say that. One of the things that I was doing during the, the, the research for this podcast, when I took a look at. You know, the sender’s restaurant and then there’s the hotel. Then you’ve got splash village and then you have the golf course.
And the one, one of the things that popped up into my mind is that really is a family experience. The, you know, if you need a place to stay, you got a hotel to stay at. If you’re hungry, here’s the restaurant you can go to. You’ve got splash village for the kids. If the adults need to get away, you’ve got a golf course over here.
So it’s interesting to hear you hear you talk about it being a destination
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:13:14] And it it’s, you know, families really appreciate that.
One thing we noticed that, we’d stay at a great Wolf lodge and they’re a great facility. I mean, and, and they’re sort of the granddaddy of them all. I mean, they kind of started the whole thing. we recognize that just as a parent, I wanted to get out of the place, you know, if, if I’m staying there two or three days, You’re you’re kind of at that facility.
And we thought, I think we have an opportunity here to introduce people, not only to Zanders, but to Frankenmuth. And we have a shuttle that complimentary shuttle that takes people anywhere that they want to go in town. And the guest is really responded to that. So we have a, a very unique setting in Frankenmuth and a very unique property.
We’re the only indoor waterpark hotel that, has. Two individual parks, both with retractable roofs, roofs, which now is a tremendous opportunity for us because when the roofs are open, we are classified as an outdoor facility. So we can,
Cliff Duvernois: [00:14:08] ah,
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:14:09] we can, we can be open with, with our roofs retracted and our sidewalls up.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:14:14] And you said something, you said something interesting about the shuttle. And I would like to go back and talk about this because in doing all my interviews around Franklin with the one theme that I’m, I’m re, that I hear that recurs is between.
And you mentioned before Eddie tiny and Wally was that it wasn’t just so much an aspect of I’m going to focus on my business and build my business. It was, yeah, I’m going to focus on my business, but I’m going to focus on the community as well. So it wasn’t just, you know, let’s just promote, you know, German, whatever it is for the restaurant, but there’s a lot of influences that you can see just driving through Frankenmuth of the Zehnder family of the Bronner’s family and.
Like what you just said, it looks like it, that that has obviously translated down into the generation. Now that is running, you know, both of these restaurants. how important is that you think about it in terms of not just a business, but as a community
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:15:07] it’s critical. And it’s actually one of our, it’s part of our vision that we have this little card that we always carry.
It’s our, our mission and vision card. And on one side is the mission of our company. And the other side is the vision of our company. In the fourth bullet point on the vision is leadership and support in our community and industry. I expect it, it was one of the things that, my, my dad taught us is you have to give back and, and.
Like I say, when I talk with our, our new employees, in our orientation is it’s just a basic expectation that we were told. I don’t care if you are a little league coach, I don’t care if you’re a member of rotary, be involved in your church. Boy scout, girl scout leader, find an Avenue to give back to your community or you, or to your industry.
It was one of the things that. My parents taught us give back and they were very involved in, in all kinds of know, boards and church groups, you know, that kind of thing. And certainly with our chamber and, and that message was also, Loud and clear, that tiny gave to his family and that wildly Brunner gave to his, and that has transcended the generation.
So it’s the, no, we have some fourth generation family members that, they’re giving back and, and it’s, it’s just a basic expectation. And I just think it’s part of leadership, you know, is you want to, you want to provide, if you’ve been successful, successful in your business. Help organizations to be successful.
The more successful organizations that we have in our community, the more successful we are. And I need a strong chamber. I need a strong, school board. I need a strong, city council, the better that we all are collectively the better we’re going to be as a community.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:16:41] correct? Yes.
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:16:42] it’s just something that is part of our DNA.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:16:45] is.
Hey everyone when we come back Al Zehnder is going to share the best piece of advice his father gave him and also what is he doing to cultivate leaders in his organization that’s going to help set them up for success in the future.
But first let’s take a moment to thank our sponsors.
And that was something with my, with my interview, with, with Mayor Ackerman was, probably one of the biggest responsibility any leader has in the community is cultivating other leaders. And of course, leadership is about bringing out the best in people.
So, I absolutely love it on the topic of, of leadership. your father, Eddie ran Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth for a number of years and then transitioned over to you. What was that transition like?
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:18:25] Well, it was long,
Cliff Duvernois: [00:18:28] it usually is.
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:18:29] you know, it’s a, it’s a long transition, you know? And, you know, as my, as my parents got older, my dad had some health issues and so some of it was natural.
Some of it wasn’t. I had two sisters that were in the business with me, bill Powell, who’s in the business and we quickly formed a, you know, a, a pretty solid, leadership group. a lot of my time was spent organizing. My dad was just. A great entrepreneur, not real good at organizing things. So there was a lot of pieces to pick up along the way.
And we did a lot of the, sort of the nuts and bolts stuff of a business of organizing like a human resource department, you know, getting our, all of our systems and procedures and protocols, serve our standard operating procedures in line. and, that took some time and time is a great, It’s a great way to transition in.
And when you understand that when somebody has put their life into something often it’s hard to just sort of step away and, you know, say I’m done in here you go. And that was kinda like my dad and my mom was very involved in the business as well. She was very supportive. sadly they both passed, but, just some of the things that they taught us, I think helped in that transition and, and we weren’t.
There was no reason to be pushy with that. I mean, I loved my parents being around, so it was a, it was long, but it was natural. It felt natural. Just even in retrospect,
Cliff Duvernois: [00:19:53] What was one piece of advice that your father Eddie gave you that you still use to this day?
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:20:00] Oh, geez. I would say probably the one thing that we use is, don’t argue over a dollar in.
Nothing’s more important than you being able to go to come over to my house for dinner. And if we had an argument that day, let’s just clear it up, you know, don’t carry it with you. and just. There’s nothing so important about business that you should argue about it, nor should it come in the way of your family and or your relationship with your family.
I always like to say that the, the best thing about a family business is you get to work with your family. the worst thing about a family business is you get to work with your family. So you sorta have to keep that in perspective, and we love each other. And, you know, if my. Yeah. If I had a disagreement over something with one of my sisters and I’m invited over to their house for dinner, that night it’s resolved.
And so we don’t, we don’t carry it with us. And I think that that’s really helped and, you know, just keep the faith and, you know, the faith that we gave you and, and the, the moral leadership and do it right. Just, you know, be a good person and, all that corny stuff that seems to really kind of work for us.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:21:08] Yeah.
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:21:10] Okay. Works.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:21:11] What I’d like to do is talk, talk about the menu. What influences for the Zehnder’s restaurant, what influences your decisions about what you’re going to put on the menu or the, or the, the offerings that you have?
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:21:22] the family style chicken dinner is really the, the flagship on our, on our menu.
And we, we look all the time. In fact, this morning we had. We have a, every other month we have a culinary committee meeting where we talk about, talk about the menu and what our offerings are. We just have a basic philosophy is, and our guests has told us this is we want to put best items on our menu, the best products on our menu at a fair price.
And so we’re always looking at tweaking little things. we’ll try monthly specials. We’ll try, Additional add ons to the family style chicken dinner. So you have a basic family style, chicken dinner, but if you want to add on, some like a Varian sausage or Wiener schnitzel, we’re always looking at how can we improve those products?
We’ll, we’ll tweak something and then we’ll keep tweaking it and, we’ll improve something and we’ll try to improve the improvement. And we’ll, we’re always looking for new products and our vendors will bring us new products. We’ll say, Hey, you know, I’ve got this new, this new item. we’ll try. Well, we try not to be too trendy.
We try to be more American fair. Sure. We have some German items that are on our menu. We try to appeal to the, different dietary. Requirements that dietarian items, gluten-free items. it seems that every day, in our industry, we’re dealing with allergies. And so we’re very conscious of that. I’ve got, my youngest daughter has a nut allergy, so I’m very conscious of that and how we, how we educate our staff and how we educate our, our chefs and what procedures do we use that may be, can mitigate some of that.
And. No, that’s very important in our industry. There’s a whole slew of products that are coming out. It’s plant based. the impossible burger you’ve seen, there’s new plant based trims that are coming out. There’s all kinds of stuff. We were very cautious on getting too far ahead of ourselves or over our skis, just because it happens to be out there.
We’ll try it internally. We’ll have our employees try it. We will. Talk about it at our culinary committee meetings, but I found that the guests just likes it a good, honest, well prepared meal, and they’re willing to pay you a fair price. So it’s, it’s a constant process. I mean, it’s a daily process and I grew up up in the back of the house.
I love the cooking process and, that’s where you’ll find me more often than that. Like on a busy Saturday night, I just love standing out. In the kitchen, we have completely revamped our, our a vegetable. We try to be more farm to table with vegetables and, using fresh. Fresher vegetables. So whole carrots, Brussels sprouts.
So today I think we have beets, not one of my favorites, but introducing different work. And where can we maybe make a difference or where can we look different or fresher or healthier. And, our, our meal tends to be a little starchy. So we’re trying to introduce other items that aren’t quite so, so heavy.
And we’re, it’s just a constant daily. Daily process.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:19] One of the things I was impressed with when, before this interview, when I was downstairs in guest services, waiting is somebody called in and spoke to the receptionist down there and said, you know, we’ve got a party coming in tomorrow night.
One of the members of our party has a garlic allergy. So your assistant without hesitation said, when you come in, just let your server know and they’ll make sure not to include those spices on there, it’s off. And I, I thought, you know, for cause, cause I understand, you know, being able to produce food at scale for the number of people that you’ve got coming in.
But the, the sheer fact that your restaurant would actually take the time to, to prepare your, you know, your family style, chicken dinner without garlic for this one guest. I, that, that just, I was very impressed with it.
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:25:00] Yeah. You have to be nimble with those types of things because. I don’t know why it is a, I’m not trying to figure it out, but there seems to be an allergy or some sensitivity to just about everything, whether it’s garlic or certainly nut nut based allergies, lactose intolerant, you know, all kinds of things.
So we try to be as, as responsive to every guest that we possibly can. I think we’ve done a pretty fair job. And if we need to, Remove an item. we’ll we’ll try and do that. We introduced a, a non fried chicken item, over the last about 18 months. So now you can have a rotisserie chicken, family style.
If that’s what you’d like, it’s been very popular. So it’s, or grilled chicken. We also have a, char grilled chicken, if you like that as well. And so constant, constant cleft, always trying something new. Gotta stay ahead of it.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:25:47] Gotta stay ahead of it and got to try something new.
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:25:49] Yep.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:25:49] Softhe Zehnders of Frankenmuth, obviously this is all. A multigenerational family business that is coming up here. And I know we talked briefly about the transition from your father, Eddie, to you, with your kids now coming up inside of the family business, what are, what are some of the things that, that you’re putting in place and that you’re doing to basically set them up for success to keep your family legacy?
Not only going but thriving,
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:26:17] Yeah. We were a little bit more purposeful. we, before this whole, COVID-19 thing start, we had a pretty regular, About every three months meeting with a, a small group of the third generation that would just get together and talk about how we’re going to, focus on succession because we’re all getting, we’re all getting older.
I mean, it’s, it’s going to happen. And the worst thing you can do is just, and everybody falls over dead and, you know, you leave a bunch of, of the next generation that really don’t have an idea of where their places we’ve tried to with the fourth generation there. I have. Two of my older children in the business.
And my sister had my one sister has a two in the business and my other sister has one. So there’s a five. And we have literally just sat them down and say, where do you feel comfortable? Where do you feel comfortable in the business? And, and they all are gravitating to where their comfort zone is, you know, internally.
And it it’s a. It’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint. So, my daughter is, is over at splash village as the general manager. My, my son is in the back of the house as one of our, back of the house managers. my nephew is over at the fortress, you know, running the fortress along with the golf professional over there.
my niece is over at, or is it and our sales department and, does the group sales for us and our, my other nephew is. Our human resource department as in an administrative role. So it’s, we want them to understand the business because once you get into a leadership position and maybe you’re outside of, Splash religion in a different role, maybe in a, in a more of an executive, a higher level executive role, you have to know the operations in this business.
You have to know the nuts and bolts. You can’t, you can’t make decisions, culinary decisions. If you don’t know the process, the culinary process about how to, how to cook something, go there or how to check them, but he into a room or, or what’s important in terms of the touchpoints right now, over at splash village.
So. We just try to get them as operationally focused right now as possible. so when they get into a, as time goes on, they understand what makes a business tick. So it’s a, it’s a constant conversation and it’s comforting when you have, family and it’s comforting that they’re coming into business, but it’s also really comforting that they know what they’re doing.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:28:34] Now, do you think going back to something you mentioned before, do you think coming in here and starting as a line cook and just basically doing all the jobs in house, do you think that’s made you a more effective CEO?
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:28:46] Yes, because I understand, I understand what it means to, what, what feels like 110 degree day.
And you’re, you know, you’re working over a chicken fryer or, you know, if, if need be, if I’m here on a Saturday night, we’re running low on, on breaded chicken. I know how to do it and I’ll do it. we want our. Our managers and certainly our, the family members, you need to get your hand hands dirty.
You need to get your hands dirty. I know my daughter was, Oh, we got a little short of housekeepers and she was in the room making beds
Cliff Duvernois: [00:29:16] cleaning side by side with them.
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:29:18] You got to do it. And you know, my, my son, the back of the house is, you know, does this same thing. I mean, if you, whatever needs to be done needs to be done, Nick, over at the golf course, my, my nephew, Was mowing greens, you know, in the spring, because not everybody, we couldn’t get the people back or, raking, you know, raking bunkers.
So it is important because you, I think it makes it a bit more of an empathetic leader. Yeah. And a sympathetic and it it’s, it’s hard work. I mean, it it’s just plain hard work. And so it’s, it’s important. My, my youngest daughter, she just turned 15. If she wants to work in a, in a back of the house, in the bakery, she loves to bake.
And so we’re trying to make that happen for her as well. So yeah, I mean, my, my dad always said he, he never said it, but you knew it is that there’s no, there’s no golden road to the top. And you gotta put your time in.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:30:06] Sure. You definitely do. This is actually then going back to, and I know you mentioned bill Paul Berg before, this is actually something where he came in. He started off as a dishwasher. That’s correct. Yep. And now he’s president. Yeah.
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:30:20] Co-op student went, went to Franklin high school, came down here and, was working, co-op on weekdays and weekends all through high school. he was a standout athlete that drank with high school as well.
And when he, graduated, my dad offered to put him through school. He went to Northwood university where he graduated and, We have a simple contract. It’s a handshake and it’s a, you go to four years of school, just give me four years when you’re done. And there
Cliff Duvernois: [00:30:46] think,
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:30:47] no obligation,
Cliff Duvernois: [00:30:48] that.
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:30:49] no obligation after that.
And a while those four years turned into a, I don’t know, I think he’s been here 45 years and, just a great success story. But again, he started out in, in the back of the house as a dishwasher, did just about everything in the back of the house. And he, he was our, when he graduated from college, we, we opened up, The, the lower level.
And he was a retail manager for a lot of years, we relocated our bakery into the lower level and he was really, took that project. And, we traveled all over and, you know, bought all this bakery, equipment of new ovens and, all kinds of stuff. And he, he led the charge there. And, through his efforts, we were named retail bakery of the year.
And I can’t remember the year. It was 19 early 1980s. And, then. Did a bunch of other things, you know, and managerial, worked in accounting for a while, HR for awhile, and, you just sort of, grow up in the business and you see, you see leadership ability and it’s, it’s rewarded by with more, more opportunities.
So he’s just a great example of, of what, what we are all about. And he’s just like family. I mean, it’s, it’s, been a great, great ride with bill. Yeah. Yeah.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:31:53] For our audience. If, if they want to, if they want to connect with you, if they want to follow you online, where’s the best places for them to go
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:32:02] right on our website, www.descenders.com.
we try to keep it updated as quickly as possible. We have, two people in our, social media that, deal with it each and every day. And, all of our UpToDate information is right there. So it’s, it’s the best place to see what’s happening at vendors.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:32:20] And for our audience, we’ll have those links in the show notes down below Al it’s been great having you on the podcast.
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:32:26] Yeah, it’s been fun.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:32:27] this conversation
Al Zehnder, Zehnders of Frankenkmuth: [00:32:28] Hey, circle back. Anytime.