All is quiet this morning as The Bavarian Inn awaits a crush of hungry patrons and souvenir shoppers.

FRANKENMUTH, MI — When the topic of family style chicken dinners is brought up, and if you’re from the Midwest, one of your first thoughts is of Frankenmuth and The Bavarian Inn Restaurant. That’s because this German-themed restaurant, established in 1888 with seating for 1,200 people, has been synonymous with full-course chicken dinners for decades.

Recent renovations over a two-year period have combined to transform this familiar landmark into a multi-purpose facility, where serving chicken dinners is but one of its many features. Much of the original front lobby was renovated to add a new staircase and elevator to the lower level. Retail shops were added to the “Castle Shops” section of the building, and the dining areas were altered to make room for more eating space and banquet facilities. The surrounding sidewalk and outside steps are now heated to stay dry and ice-free during the winter months.

The changes will do wonders for business, and there is one person who is relieved to see the renovation come to an end.

“Cosmetic changes [as opposed to new construction] are harder to follow up with mechanical changes,” said Gary Mossner, facility manager, who started working at the Inn in 1988. “We even set aside a dining room for ‘Tiny’ Zehnder [the Inn’s founder], where all things that have been a part of his life are on display there. But we had to alter the existing dining room to do that.”

Mossner’s job is to keep the Inn’s visitors and employees comfortable year-round, and that means he has to provide plenty of care and maintenance for the facility’s energy systems. During the peak holiday season, thousands of chicken dinners are served each day, requiring the right environmental conditions both in the kitchens and the dining rooms.

After all, over 205,000 chickens (3 1/4 ton) are served annually to over 700,000 visitors. Inn management strives to make the dining experience fun, and that means keeping patrons comfortable, too.

The Heart and Soul

Two side-by-side Johnson boilers in the Inn’s recently constructed boiler room are what Mossner calls the “heart and soul” of the Inn. “If they go down, the Inn goes down,” he said.

The 200-hp boilers put out 6,900 lbs of steam per hour and are fed by natural gas. Each boiler was installed in 1995 during building renovations. Once the concrete floor and boiler pads were poured, the boilers were installed and the rest of the room was built around them, becoming part of the 28,000-sq-ft addition. Replacing a boiler would be a monumental, if not impossible, task.

“That’s why maintenance of the boilers is so important,” said Mossner. “Because how do you replace a boiler? We’d have to take the structure apart!”

Mossner and his mentor, Willis Veitengruber, a former powerhouse operator at the local brewery, have their name on each of the boilers and constantly keep watch over them like a mother over a newborn baby. That’s one of the reasons Mossner has set up a “mini chemical lab” in a nearby room.

He said it is important to make sure the water chemistry in the boiler treatment lines is balanced at all times, and that oxygen is kept out of the system. “We don’t want the boilers to lime up or foam, because of the close proximity to food,” he said. “That’s why I’m learning water chemistry from Willis.”

The Inn’s air handlers are almost constantly in use due to the heat from the crush of visitors and the heat from the kitchen. Heat from the lighting system must be accounted for, too. “We have double the average number of lights per square foot compared to an average facility,” said Mossner.

“If we get above 45 degrees [outside air], we need the chiller running to keep the kitchen comfortable,” he added. On hot days over 80 degrees, the 300-ton rooftop chiller is running 200-plus tons of chilled water to maintain the facility.

The Inn’s 26 air handlers are run with DX and chilled water coils, and although Mossner would like to switch to all chilled water from the older DX coils, he is reluctant to do so.

“When we remodeled in 1995, we replaced the DX coil units with Trane modular units,” he said. “We’d like to get chilled water coils to replace all of the DX coils, but it would be like putting all of our eggs in one basket. If the chiller goes down, we lose a third of our cooling.”

Gary Mossner poses with "his" boiler.

Controlling The Environment

The Inn’s heating and cooling are controlled mainly by one control system.

“We use a system by Auto-Matrix, which controls 95 percent of the building,” Mossner said. “Programming is easy and needs to be constantly monitored because of the different environments in the Inn.

“You will not find a thermostat in any room in the Inn. That’s because people were always adjusting them when they were uncomfortable. Now the [comfort levels] are controlled by the Auto-Matrix system.”

Imagine what a nightmare it would be if one of the Inn’s 500 employees (during the peak holiday season) decided to adjust the thermostat to fit his or her own comfort level? A lot of chickens might have been wearing overcoats.

For more information on The Bavarian Inn, visit

Publication date: 12/25/2000