Call of Leadership

The Call of Leadership

Amy Grossi, the third generation of the Bavarian Inn Zehnders, shares with us her journey and growth within her family’s business.  It’s daunting to think of running one of Michigan’s top travel destinations but Amy handles it with grace and style.  With her incredible team, she continues the time-honored tradition started by her grandfather and expanded by her father.

Show Notes:

  • Interview with Dorothy Zehnder (Listen)
  • Interview with Bill Zehnder (Listen)


713 S Main St
Frankenmuth, MI 48734

Phone: 800-228-2742


Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:00] Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the show. My name is Cliff DuVernois your host. And today we are joined by the third generation of Zehnders from the Bavarian Inn. And that would be Amy Grossi. We’ve already talked to her grandmother, Dorothy Zehnder. We’ve talked to, her father Bill Zender. So make sure to check out those episodes.

But today it’s great that we have the general manager of the Bavarian and Amy Grossi with us today. Amy, how are you?

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:00:57] I’m great. Thanks for having me Cliff.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:59] Excellent. So I almost feel kind of dumb asking this question, but I kind of asked to ask it anyways. So tell us a little bit about, you know, where did you grow up and how did you get really involved in the family business?

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:01:12] Sure. Well, I grew up in Frankenmuth. I went to, St. Lawrence Lutheran school, K through eight, and then I went to Frankenmuth high school. And, while I was in high school and in grade school, I worked in our family business. then I went away to. Michigan state. and I never thought that I would actually work in the family business full-time but I, I worked, At, consulting and accounting and consulting firm after I graduated from college.

And then, in 2000, my dad asked me to come work on a project with him. it’s we were building Franklin with river place shops. And so I did that kind of thinking it was a temporary thing. And I have been here since.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:51] excellent. Now, growing up, were you actively involved in the restaurant?

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:01:56] Yeah. So we had, you know, part-time jobs, just as many high schoolers and not too many grade schoolers have part-time jobs, but as, as the children of owners, there aren’t really any labor laws for. For those children. So we did, we did, work in the kitchen. I worked, often with my grandmother in the kitchen.

and then as we got older, we worked in different departments every summer. So I didn’t really stay in one department very long. We kind of rotated departments. And I think that was a really good idea, that my parents had to give us a, maybe a more well-rounded picture of the business.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:02:33] excellent. And I know that you mentioned before that growing up, going off to college, you really didn’t see yourself working in the family business. What was it that made you decided to take a very active role in the family business?

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:02:49] I would say once, once my husband and I moved back here, and we got,  quite involved in the Franklin JC is in the community. you may be growing up in Frankenmuth. You don’t appreciate all that. It has to offer, especially for, families. There’s not a lot of nightlife in, in Frankenmuth. so you know, when you’re younger, you think maybe you’d rather live in a big city.

And I did do that. I lived in the Detroit area for, for awhile, but, coming back, just, living in, in the, the small town that we do live in and, really. Kind of getting more immersed in the business and really getting to know our team members and our guests. I think that’s what kind of drew me in is, you know, Hey, I, I love, I love serving our guests and, and we had such an amazing team.

there, there, why I am still here.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:40] excellent. And I totally get your point on that. I spent over 20 years in California before I moved back here. Last November.

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:03:48] Oh, recent.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:49] yeah, just recent. Yeah. And, and it’s interesting because even the other day I was driving into Frankenmuth and I was thinking to myself, you know, It’s it’s a shame that I had to go away for so long to really start appreciating, you know, Michigan as a state, let alone Frankenmuth, but I’m glad that I’m there, you know, and it, and it took me a little bit wild to make it to that point.

But yeah. All of a sudden now it’s, you know, Franklenmuth has become one of my favorite spots and some of my favorite places to eat it’s become like a, you know, like a, like a default place for me to go. So I definitely understand, when you say that you went away and came back and then you just had like a brand new appreciation for what it is a Franklin with, had to offer.

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:04:30] Yes. And I’m grateful for the time that I was away so that I could have more of appreciation for it.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:04:35] sure. And also too, I think it would give you kind of a little bit of a unique perspective coming back as to someone who, you know, may have never been to Frankenmuth that, you know, you’re just coming back kind of like viewing it through a new set of eyes. So I think that’s, I, I think that’s really cool with.

W w tell us a little bit about, cause you know, getting involved with the family business. And I know you mentioned before about, changing departments and working there. What, what was, you know, when they asked you to take on the role of general manager, what was, what was going through your mind when that happened?

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:05:10] Sure. And that wasn’t right away. Obviously I worked, as a manager in several divisions and departments, I had just graduated with a master’s degree, from Michigan state. I did the weekend program that Michigan state offered and. So, it was at that point that, my mom actually was the general manager and she,  was ready to step back and, felt that with my education and some of my background in the other departments that it was time for me to step up.

So, I remember being a little bit,  nervous about that because, Maybe I didn’t feel that I was fully ready and I, and I probably wasn’t, they probably threw me in there and knowing that how you learn is by doing it. So, I have a wonderful support from my family, to do that, but also we have some really senior managers that have been in their position for a very long time and, have great support.

We just, we just have a lot of experience on our management team and I’m really grateful for them, especially during these challenging times when we’re shifting gears constantly.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:06:13] yeah, every other day, see, we seem to be shifting gears and you actually, you re, re you bring up a really great point and I, and I appreciate your honesty and the fact that, you weren’t exactly sure if you were quite ready to assume such a large role, but I think that. For, for people out there, they forget that.

Oftentimes you really do have a good support system, a support team. You’ve got very knowledgeable people that are around you. So it’s not necessarily, you know, Amy fighting the good fight by herself. You’ve got a really good staff, a really good team in place to, to really help you execute and to keep the, keep the family legacy moving forward.

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:06:56] Right, right. It’s not a one person show.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:06:59] definitely not. So why don’t you talk to us a little about, about. the cause I know you said you, you were, you were, you were in very involved with the, with the, the river place project. Tell us a little bit about the thinking that went into that. What was, you know, what was like, you know, what was the family’s vision for that?

What did, what was, you know, what was some of the key decisions that you made to really, to really shape that place and turn it into a real hotspot of activity?

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:07:26] so I wasn’t as involved in the beginning, as my father was, in charge of the project, I would say from a, a building standpoint and, and getting it going. we worked with the developer and. For the life of me, I can’t think of his name off the top of my head.  but we worked with this developer to develop the concept.

Our family had purchased the property that it sits on 10 years ago. And we were just looking for the right. Concept to go in that property. So it was a former brewery, so we tore the brewery down and built river place. so my involvement really wasn’t with the coming up with the concept that was all my, the rest of my family members.

And, I got more involved when it came to the financing and, and looking at. Proformas and in doing that, but I have to be real honest. I was pretty green, so I’m not sure that I contributed as much as maybe they would have wanted, but, and, and river place has kind of. Changed over time in the beginning.

we were more as landlords and we’re bringing in, concepts for stores and we tried lots of things that worked and tried lots of things that didn’t work. And so, Now we, we do own some of the stores that are in river place, but, we lease the hose and now my cousin, Michael, is really in charge of, river place and oversees that area.

So it’s kind of changed over the years, but I think right now, it’s a, it’s a really great place for visitors to visit. There’s a lot of variety and shops and experiences, and it’s been a great addition to Franklin mills.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:09:09] yes, indeed. And I will admit that, I am a complete sucker for the, for the cupcake shop. That is there.  they have this German chocolate cupcake that I just, I, I cannot get enough of it as well as, they have, a raspberry filled one, so, you know, yeah. So.

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:09:27] that one yet.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:09:28] Yeah, it’s super good. And typically what it is is, is when we find ourselves eating over there, what we’ll do is, is we, you know, we cheat, I probably shouldn’t say this, but when we get done with dinner, we always walk over to the cupcake place because that now becomes dessert.

And, but yeah, so thoroughly enjoying, the, the entire experience of river place. And there’s some really great wine shops in there. I love that the cherry Republic is there. So, you know, really kudos for you for. you know, you and your family for, for having the vision executing on that. And I just, I see so many people over there, and it always fills my heart, especially during, you know, COVID 19 times where, you know, a lot of people might be a little bit scared, a little, have a little bit of trepidation with regards to going out into public.

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:10:09] Sure. Yeah. And being outdoors. It’s definitely it, that’s been helpful as well.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:10:14] yes. And I would also like to talk a bit about. Michigan, Michigan on Maine, to me, because like I said, it’s, it’s been 20 years when, when I left, it was the roof garden and, you know, pleasantly surprised to see Michigan on Maine. I was taking a little bit of backed by that, cause I was just so used to the, to the later Hosen and the durdles, but you know, it kind of had more of a, like a bistro pub feel to it. Which, you know, with your German food, just, you know, really started to appeal to me. So, so talk to me about the whole, you know, the rebranding of the, of the roof garden and, you know, creating the, the, the Michigan on main experience.

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:10:50] Yes. So we, I wanted to rebrand that area and not that it was not successful. but it, it kind of didn’t really have its own identity. It was, we were serving. Chicken dinner, not the full chicken dinners, but we were serving chicken plates. We were serving, some, German entrees and sandwiches and, and different things.

And it kind of just really needed a rebrand, a let’s, really. W, and, and at the same time, we really wanted to showcase our, using of Michigan, products. we use that, that was kind of the impetus of why it’s called Michigan on main and what our theming was there. because we are so proud of our, our local farmers and in our great state, we have so many options available to us for, For wonderful products.

And so we really wanted to be able to highlight that and make it known to our guests that, what, what we all have available in Michigan. And so that’s kind of how it started and, it’s evolved over time, but, we kind of changed the decor a little bit changed the, the menu, the, The uniforms. We added the patio, summer later after we did did that.

And I think it’s been a successful project for us. We, we get great feedback from our guests and it’s, it’s just a little bit different than what you can get in our traditional dining rooms.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:12:18] yes. And I will admit it’s, it’s really nice to be able to drive down main street there in Frankenmuth and be able to see the people that are sitting outside. Obviously not now with it getting. Well wintertime, but weather permitting, being able to, to sit outside and be able to enjoy, a dinner or a lunch or something.

I, I think it’s just, it’s really great and you’re kind of, you’re still on the streets, so you’re still kind of getting the full, Frankenmuth experience while you’re doing it. And plus. I love those deep fried pickles you guys have. I can’t get enough of those every time I go. I order them, even if I just stop in for a brewski or something, I have to get those deep fried pickles.

I’m addicted to them.

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:12:59] They go good with beer that’s for sure.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:13:00] Yep. My tummy has never complained once about that. So, you know, that’s definitely, that’s definitely a good thing. Excellent. So, you know, right now, cause I, I know that, you know, in, in the interview, with, with bill center, we, we talked a lot about the, the plans that you have in place for, for COVID 19.

And we’re just walking into the, the Christmas season of the year as we’re, as we’re doing this interview. Why don’t you talk to us a little bit about. you know, the, the, the planes that you guys tentatively have in place, because right now we got the epidemic order that’s going on, but, you know, tentatively, what are, what are some of the plans that you guys had gotten in place to, to really create some special experiences for your guests?

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:13:38] Sure. You know, in a normal time, Christmas is just. It’s such a magical time in Frankenmuth. And you know that because you visited,  right now our dining rooms are not able to be open, but we are grateful that we can still serve meals to go and we can, Have our shops open.  and so most of Frankenmuth, I believe, I mean, this has just come out, in the last two days.

So I believe most of Frankenmuth will have shopping available. So, and guests come to, to Frankenmuth to do a lot of shopping during the holidays. So, What is new and different this year is I think the town is really going all out for Christmas decorations. we’re a little bit limited in what we can do inside, but our, our community, led by the Franklin chamber of commerce has kind of gotten us all together and we have some really new, light displays and, just different things that, that we can offer to guests.

Maybe don’t even want to get out of their car, or want to be outside. And so, we are planning on being open for Christmas and of course we serve many families on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. that’s just part of their, their Christmas traditions. And so we are praying and hoping that we will be able to continue to carry on those traditions for people, but we just have to wait and see

Cliff Duvernois: [00:15:06] yeah. Speaking of traditions is there, is there some piece of advice that your grandmother perhaps gave you  with regards to assuming more and more of, of the, the mantle of the family business? or maybe even, even, even your dad give you any advice that you found to be very helpful  when becoming general manager of the restaurant.

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:15:27] one thing that my dad always taught me, was to make sure that you listen. and he would always talk about how his dad, which would be Tiny’s gender, was such a great listener and. I think that if you can just listen and I’m working on that every day, I still think we all, it’s all a challenge for all of us sometimes, but just being able to listen to the guests, what are the guests asking for?

What are the guests saying and what are the team members saying? And, and, sometimes. When you’re in a leadership position, you feel like you need to tell people what to do, but, really leadership is all about listening and, coming up, you know, listening to your team and coming up with the best solution.

And then sometimes you have to lead and tell people what to do, but it’s only after being able to listen. so I think that’s some really great advice that I will forever, use and, and refine, I think, with my grandma.  w one, she’s taught me so much, but I think the biggest thing that she taught us growing up and, and now, and, and, you know, this week is you gotta work hard and, Working hard is something that she has done all her life.

She grew up on a farm and still to this day is, is working hard. In fact, I can just hear her outside my office, her cart is going by. So she’s here today and, you know, just being that example of having such strong work ethic, I know, myself and our team members and our other family members, we, we try to emulate every day.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:17:06] and that actually has to be, and that has to be inspiring to see. Knowing that full well that she has obviously earned her retirement. I mean, if she wanted to go off and learn how to play golf or something, no one, no one would say, you know, Oh, you’re being lazy. Right. But man, she comes in and she, she, she works and she, and she works hard.

So, you know, w and I know you talked before about, you know, how that’s, you know, something that you really wish to emulate. is that, is that something that you see for yourself? In the future.

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:17:39] About not retiring, honestly. No, I don’t. think that, That is in my cards to work till I’m 99, but who knows? You just don’t know. you know, they, my grandma and grandfather built this business and they were working together. Well, I don’t necessarily work in the business with my husband. So at some point I think we would like to retire and travel and, and do, other things.

so I don’t predict that I will be working in at the restaurant when I’m 99, but we’ll see.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:18:08] Okay. All right, that’s fine. what is, so with you coming up in there and I asked this question, because I know that, you know, there’s, there’s a lot of, you know, there’s a lot of people that are, that are passing the reigns onto, you know, the, the, the next generation, you know, what is some of the things that, that you could share with us that, that maybe surprised you a bit, from, from assuming your role.

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:18:31] Hmm. Good question. Let me think about that. Surprised me. I’m surprised everyday on things.  what do you think about that? Can you tell me that? Can you ask me the question one more time?

Cliff Duvernois: [00:18:41] sure. so I know there’s a lot of businesses out there that, you know, they, they, you know, they’re handing down the reins, so to speak to the younger generation. And you, your, your situation is just like, that is, you’re assuming more and more responsibility and you know, you, and I know you mentioned a, I believe it was your cousin who was in charge of river, river place.

Is there, is there something about when you, when you stepped up and you assumed the role, maybe something that, that kind of surprised you or something that maybe unexpected, that popped up that. That you know, that you were exposed to, or perhaps it was, it, it didn’t turn out like, like you, like you expected maybe something, you know, like, Oh, I didn’t think this was going to be as, as, either as difficult as it was, or as pleasant as it is.

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:19:29] I w well, two things were kind of going through my mind. w when I became general manager, I, I kind of thought that perhaps our team that was in place here might. Might think, well, yeah, she’s the boss’s kid. So she, she gets that role. and I, I thought maybe there might be. I don’t want to say opposition, but just a harder time working together as a team because they’ve been used to my parents leading, but it was actually the complete opposite.

they, our management team, welcomed me and. Taught me and really helped me, not that I’m there, but I grow into that position and still continue today to, to grow into that position. so it was a, a good surprise, I guess, with that, the other thing that I thought of when you were asking me this question is.

about the importance of communication and, and in a family business, especially in, when you’re talking about succession planning and, and just, you cannot overly communicate in that realm. And right before w we’re constantly working on succession planning, but, and we were ready to take it to the next level this year.

but COVID kind of put a little damper on that right now, but it’s really important as family business members that we continue to. Share our feelings like about retirement and different things like that. So we all know where each other’s coming from and we’re not guessing. And then making false assumptions on where people are at.

So I think those two are things that I’ve definitely learned.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:21:06] yes. And, there’s a couple of things that really popped up. when, when you were talking there something I’ve, I’ve been on a, on a personal journey of, but, communication has become on absolutely critical. Component. And the more that I talk with people, the more I interview with them, the more research and reading that I’m doing.

I am seeing just how important that, that the, the communication is. And, I have to say it’s, it’s, it’s become a, it seems like, you know, from what you were just describing here, it really is that the key integral component, you know, not only as you talk about access, succession planning, but also to, with dealing with.

With the, dealing with the staff there. and it’s, and it’s great that you guys are her, your, your restaurant’s always been like very professional, you know, whenever I’ve gone there and people, you know, they, they, they know their jobs, they, they respect, the, the chain of command, so to speak. And so it’s really great that you’ve been able to, and I know we talked about this before, but have that really great, support system in place, to, to make the make, make your transition a success.

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:22:10] Right, right.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:22:11] Excellent. Now, do you have any plans? Are you looking towards the future and thinking, man, you know what? I would like to build an amusement park over by the lodge. Have you given any thought as to, as to what might be next

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:22:26] We have as a family, we have some plans. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:22:29] and if they’re top secret that’s okay.

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:22:30] yeah, nothing that I can share fully yet, but,  Prior to COVID. We had some plans and we’re moving forward and now, you know, everything happens for a reason and, we, we will regroup and it might just take us longer to get to those plans. we just kind of have to see it’s, it’s kinda, it’s difficult right now to plan cause you, you.

You plant, you make the plans and then you’re constantly changing them. So I’m a planner. I love to plan. And so does our family. And at our last family board meeting, we were talking about how, you know, that is our that’s our emo we plan and we are prepared. And right now we just have to react and respond to some things and just do the best we can for our, for our team and for our guests.

And so it’s kind of, we’re in limbo right now. I think.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:23:18] Yeah, and that’s fine. And that’s completely understandable giving, given the, the, the current climate that, that is there. so, you know, th th so the question I have for you is that, you know, as, as the holidays are coming up, and if. You know, people are interested in, either, you know, and hopefully this order gets list, gets lifted after three weeks.

But if people are interested in, you know, taking a closer look at the services that you offer and provide the, you know, the, the meals that you’re having, whether they’re in restaurant or maybe, you know, some kind of curbside pickup, whatever form that might take, what would be the best way for people to find out more information on those?

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:23:54] Yes. Well, everything is listed on our website, which has the Varian And, we also are active on social media. So Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, is another way to find all of that. For guests that are, are, are not wanting to travel. We have an online store.  and we also have our shops are open right now and we hope that that can continue, through the holiday season as well.

And then we’ll just have to see about dining, in, in our lodging area, we are open, our. Our water slides can not be open right now, but our, you can stay overnight and we have carry out available in the restaurants there. so we’re just trying our best to stay open and be here for our guests. this is really a, a traditional time for many families.

And so we want to be able to provide what we can in a safe manner.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:47] sure, completely understandable. And for our audience, we will have all those links in the show notes down below, Amy. I really do want to thank you for the opportunity and I know with the new epidemic order coming in, I know you guys are, are busy trying to make sure that you can keep up, the, the, the, the level of service.

That, that your guests appreciate. So, so thank you so much for agreeing to be on the podcast today.

Amy Grossi, Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn: [00:25:13] Thank you for the opportunity Cliff. It was nice talking with you.