All in the Family: 4 of Michigan’s Iconic Multi-Generational Businesses

Father’s Day serves as a time to be with family and share memories of the past. In Michigan, we have many distinctive family-run companies which not only maintain their roots as historic businesses, but they are paying attention to current trends and looking to the future to thrive for new generations. Read more as Dianna Stampfler of Promote Michigan shares the history behind four multi-generational businesses.

1. Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island—First opened in 1887, this National Historic Landmark has been operated by the current family for 83 years. In the midst of the Great Depression in 1933, W. Stewart Woodfill (who was hired as a desk clerk in 1919) was the sole bidder to take the hotel out of receivership and preserve its place in history.

His nephew, R. D. (Dan) Musser Jr., began working at the hotel as a college student in 1951. In 1979, Dan and his wife, Amelia, purchased the seasonal property on America’s most noted island and began the task of redesigning both the interior and exterior spaces, with the help of architect Richard Boss and decorator Carleton Varney.

Grand Hotel is as iconic as any other destination in Michigan

Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler of Promote Michigan

Dan Musser III grew up in the family business—serving as kitchen assistant, bellman, bartender, bar manager, front desk clerk and manager, reservations manager and vice president, before being named President in 1989 and officially taking over the 390-room “Green Certified” hotel in 2011 (along with all the outlying properties: The Jewel Golf Course, The Gatehouse Restaurant, Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor, Jockey Club, Woods Restaurant, Cawthorne’s Village Inn and the new Grand Sushi which just opened this summer.

2. Schuler’s Restaurant, Marshall—In 1909, a young orphaned Albert Schuler (a name he acquired from a traveling butcher who took him in after his mother died and his father abandoned him) became an entrepreneur, building the foundation for what has become one of Michigan’s most noted restaurants in historic downtown Marshall.

Bert’s first business was a cigar shop, followed by a small café, hotel and restaurant. It was here that second-generation Winston “Win” Schuler and his brother, Albert Jr., brought national attention to the restaurant, with at one time nine locations around the state (and one in Indiana).

Shuler's Restaurant in Marshall is a local favorite

Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler of Promote Michigan

“While it was expected that I would follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfather, it was a path I was actually eager to take,” says third-generation owner Hans Schuler, who officially joined the business in 1959 and in 1970 became President of the company, purchasing it from his father upon his retirement in the 1980s.

Larry Schuler is the fourth-generation to work in the family business and serve as a leader in the state’s hospitality industry. He is currently the president of Schu’s Hospitality and is a consultant for The Henry Ford Museum & Institutions in Dearborn.

3. Stafford’s Hospitality, Petoskey Area—It could be said that Stafford Smith was born to be a hotelier in the Petoskey area. Although his family was from the downstate town of Albion, they were vacationing in Petoskey when he made his appearance into the world. Today, his name is synonymous with hospitality in this lakeshore region.

He was just 22 years old in April, 1961 when he purchased the Bay View Inn. Originally built in 1886, this charming vintage inn is Stafford’s flagship property nestled along the shores of Little Traverse Bay. The Pier Restaurant in downtown Harbor Springs became the next acquisition (1970), followed by the Earl Young-built Weathervane Restaurant in Charlevoix (1986), the Perry Hotel (pictured below) (1989), the Gallery (2007), the Crooked River Lodge in Alanson (2011) and the Draw Bridge Bistro in downtown Charlevoix (2014).

The Perry Hotel is one of Smith's many popular destinations

Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler of Promote Michigan

Stafford R. “Reg” Smith is the eldest child of Stafford Smith, and his wife of 55-years, Janice. He grew up in the business, having worked in nearly every capacity at the Inn. During the 1990s, Reg and his wife, Lori, together served as innkeepers at the Bay View Inn. Today, Reg is the Vice President of Hotels for Stafford’s Hospitality’s seven regional properties.

4. Zehnder’s, Frankenmuth—The first restaurant meals served in Frankenmuth were at the Exchange Hotel in 1856, just 11 years after the town’s founding. In 1928, William and Emilie Zehnder sold their 80-acre farm and borrowed the balance of the funds necessary for the $8,000 down payment to purchase the hotel. They opened on Mother’s Day, 1929 and on that first day served 312 guests, for just one dollar each.

The 1950s were a pivotal decade as the Zehnder family purchased the competition, the Fischer’s Hotel (where the community’s family-style chicken dinner originated), and named Tiny Zehnder as manager. Within a few years, Tiny suggested to the family that they remodel the building, adding character through Bavarian architecture. The entire family agreed and by 1959 the newly named Bavarian Inn opened with a grand celebration—the foundation to Frankenmuth’s Bavarian Festival, which is still celebrated to this day.

Zehnder's Restaurant is a must-visit when exploring Frankenmuth

Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler of Promote Michigan

Despite financial setbacks, the Zehnder family continued to invest in its businesses and community, helping to create an unquestionable pride in its German heritage. The successful transformation of Fischer’s Hotel to the Bavarian Inn helped to encourage other Frankenmuth property owners to develop what is now “Michigan’s Little Bavaria.”

Bavarian Inn continues to be a staple in Frankenmuth

Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler of Promote Michigan

Today, the third generation of the Zehnder family are still currently involved in the day-to-day operations of their expanded businsses. The Bavarian Inn branch of the family (under the guidance of their 95-year-old matriarch, Dorothy Zehnder) oversees the Bavarian Inn Restaurant, the Bavarian Inn Lodge and the River Place Shops. The Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth branch operates the flagship Zehnder’s restaurant (America’s largest family restaurant), as well as The Fortress championship golf club, Zehnder’s Splash Village and a retail facility Zehnder’s Marketplace.

Michigan is home to many other generational family businesses, what are your favorites?

Dianna Stampfler is the president of Promote Michigan. She’s been an active supporter of the tourism industry since her first family vacation to Leelanau County at the age of three. Today, she is living her dream and resides in the Lake Michigan shoreline community of Petoskey. 

Here’s What It Takes to Make Mackinac Island Fudge

Happy National Fudge Day! In honor of celebrating a true Pure Michigan delicacy, we reached out to our friends on Mackinac Island to share some insight on the island’s famous fudge and a few fun facts to go along with it. Read more to see how much you know about Mackinac’s historic fudge-making process and three interesting facts below.

What is the most popular thing to do for free on Mackinac Island?  The answer: Sample free fudge! That question is one of the most frequently asked at the island’s downtown information booth. Another is, who makes the best Mackinac Island fudge? Two questions with the same answer: Taste test for yourself.

JoAnn's fudge with walnuts

JoAnns Fudge is one of many shops to explore on Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is America’s Fudge Capital and our fudge stores take the moniker very seriously. It’s a proud badge of honor to carry and they give back by offering samples to anyone who asks. On Mackinac Island, fudge plays a major tourism role along with our Fort Mackinac, Grand Hotel and 600-working horses on this island without cars.

Who knew making fudge could be so entertaining?

Our visitors are in for a “sweet treat” when they get off one of our ferry boats and roam downtown where 14-fudge shops are collectively making over 10-thousand pounds of fudge per day during the peak travel season. In addition to sampling the taste, they also get to watch the process of making fudge from boiling the ingredients to pouring the hot liquid concoction onto marble tables where expert fudge makers fold and mold it into iconic half pound slices.

Mackinac Island's fudge-making process takes time for perfection

Photo Courtesy of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

One of the best surprises visitors get here is the smell of fudge emanating from every fudge store as its being made. Stores have a ventilation systems emptying into the streets to share the aroma from their boiling vats with temperatures reaching in the 240-degree area. You’ve concluded by now fudge is big business. As many as 10-tons of sugar is imported to the island weekly to match the 10-tons of butter annually!

Today, 80-percent of that sugar comes from the sugar beet fields of Michigan. Back in the late 19th Century the sweetness for fudge making came from local Native American tribes harvesting maple sugar according to Phil Porter’s book, Fudge Mackinac’s Sweet Souvenir.

Toppings are added near the end stages of fudge-making

Photo Courtesy of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

The popularity of Mackinac Island Fudge is at an all-time high. Purchasing fudge over the internet keeps Mackinac Island fudge consumption going year round. It is especially popular during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. So as you read this, chances are someone is being entertained by watching the fudge making process on Mackinac Island! It looks delicious, smells terrific, tastes incredible and is almost as entertaining to watch as it is to eat. Did you know these fun fudge-facts below?

  1. Did you know during World War I, millions of individually wrapped one-ounce portions of chocolate were delivered to our soldiers in Europe?
  2. Did you know during World War II the rationing of sugar adversely effected the quantity of Mackinac Island Fudge being made to satisfy demand?
  3. Did you know President Gerald R. Ford visited Mackinac Island in 1975 and stopped at May’s Fudge on the corner of Astor and Main where it sits today? He sampled then purchased a fresh off the slab slice of vanilla pecan.     

What is your favorite flavor of Mackinac Island fudge? Share with us by commenting below!

5 Ways to Add Water To Your Blue Water Area Vacation

There’s something about water and vacation that just goes together.  Maybe it’s the sense of renewal that water brings to the human soul, or maybe it’s that water gives us a free pass to get silly, to splash, jump and throw rocks.  Whatever the reason, the Blue Water Area welcomes you to the eastern shores of Michigan where water and great vaca to-dos go hand-in-hand.  Guest blogger, Danielle Kreger of the Blue Water Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, shares these five ways (amongst the many) to add water to your vacation in the Blue!    

1. Get Wet! 

Get your feet wet at any of the Blue’s sandy beaches.  The immensity of Lake Huron can be embraced whole-heartedly when there’s blue water as far as the eye can see and the waves rush in to lap at your ankles.  Beaches bring you right to the water’s edge and exist in most of the Blue’s waterfront towns.  Some beaches are tucked in along quiet coves and offer a lighter crowd, while others are busy with picnickers and activity.  For families looking for fun amenities, Lakeside Beach, in Port Huron has a newly installed splashpad.  The water sprinklers pay tribute to the area with water showering from a lighthouse, a Blue Water Bridge replica and other water infused structures.  Port Austin’s beaches offer a one-of-a-kind view because of their position at the tip of Michigan’s mitten thumb.  Being in this particular location, the sun rises in the east over Lake Huron and sets in the west over Lake Huron.  So, no matter if you’re enjoying the beach at daybreak or nightfall, you’ll still catch a fabulous show of glowing sunbeams at the horizon.

2. Dock and Dine 

One of the best parts of vacation is scouting new places to eat!  The Blue Water Area doesn’t make you travel too far from the water.  In fact, many waterfront locales have boat docks so boaters can pull right up and tie off.  Brown’s Bar of Harsens Island, has enough slips for a couple dozen boats and always welcomes a good time.  Tucked on the Middle Channel of Harsens Island, just north of Lake St. Clair, it has been a favored place amongst boaters (and ferry-goers) since 1946.  Patrons praise their come-as-you-are attitude and their signature Madison burger.  Other “dock and dine” locations in the Blue include downtown St. Clair for a quick walk to several bars and restaurants like Pepper Joe’s, the Voyageur or Murphy’s Inn, also the River Crab just north of St. Clair, Junction Buoy in Marysville, Thumbcoast Brewing Company, The H.A.C. and Zebra Lounge in Port Huron, The Windjammer in Lexington and Uri’s Landing in Port Sanilac.

Boats gather at Browns Bar on Harsens Island

Photo Courtesy of the Blue Water Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

3. Sightseeing from the Water 

Step aboard the Huron Lady II for a sightseeing tour and cruise past some of Port Huron’s landmarks and special attractions.  This narrated, two-level cruise boat takes passengers along the St. Clair River, beneath the Blue Water Bridges and into Lake Huron.  Along the way it will pass the Huron Lightship, Blue Water Convention Center, Thomas Edison Depot Museum, Fort Gratiot Lighthouse and, if timing is right, alongside a churning Great Lakes Freighter.  Stand at the bow and feel the rush of the crisp lake breeze!  The upper level of the boat is open to the fresh air while the lower deck is enclosed with spacious windows.  The Captain and friendly staff are ready to show you the sites from a new perspective.

A Great Lakes freighter passes by on Lake Huron

Photo Courtesy of the Blue Water Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

4. Paddle Around 

Paddle the watery roads that nature has created.  Traveling by way of kayak, paddle board or canoe is a great way to experience the landscape and terrific water trails that weave through the Blue Water communities.  Discover a variety of routes ranging from tranquil inland rivers, and urban waterways to the dynamic challenge of the St. Clair River or the expanse of Lake Huron.  Missy Campau, resident paddler and owner of Missy’s Kayak Connection in Port Huron says, “Paddling, in and of itself, is a relatively easy task.  Anyone can paddle.”  She strongly suggests first-timers and novice paddlers head out with someone experienced and be familiar with the waterway and the challenges it can present.  She, along with PoHo Paddle Company rent paddle boards on weekends at Lakeside Beach in Port Huron so beginners can test-run in the shallow water just beyond shore.  Another waterway option is the Tip of the Thumb Heritage Water Trail that extends along the Lake Huron shoreline from Lexington to Port Austin.  There are many access points along the trail and paddlers will view earthy rock formations, caves and stacks.   For a fun and invigorating activity, add paddling to your vacation bucket list.

5. Walk Leisurely 

To stroll is to walk leisurely.  The Blue’s riverwalks invite you to stroll, ramble and wander along their paths to enjoy gorgeous waterfront views and shoreline activity.  Palmer Park in St. Clair boasts the longest freshwater wooden boardwalk in the world.  It’s a leisurely walk along the St. Clair River and its wide expanse of grass and shade trees provide excellent picnic and lounging space. Riverwalks also stretch along Marine City and Algonac waterfronts where the Great Lakes freighters pass so close they seem touchable.  Great efforts have been put in place to restore shorelines along riverwalk areas into healthy habitats for native plants and animals.  Marysville’s once eroding riverfront now has cobble and plants to restore aquatic habitats.  The Blue Water Riverwalk in Port Huron was formerly an industrial site and now thrives with a natural shoreline.  It features a former ferry dock that is now a lookout deck and many art sculptures depicting the area’s waterfront heritage.  Whether you stroll, sit or explore, be sure to enjoy!

It's easy to relax along the shores of Marine City

Photo Courtesy of the Blue Water Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Visit the Blue Water Area’s eastern shores of Michigan where splashing, jumping and lounging are encouraged!  For more details and info about the Blue, visit the website and Facebook page.

About the author:  Danielle Kreger lives and works in the Blue Water Area.  Though it is her home, she still sees the Blue as her getaway spot, loving the true-blue water and quaint hometown ambiance of each shoreline community.  She gets her kicks photographing her family as they make their own ventures every day.