Who lives, works, and plays here?

This is Frankenmuth

One of the largest aspects of Heart and Soul is understanding the community – those who live here, work here, and play here. That is why we are beginning a journey of story telling through our community.

Want to share your story? Please give us a call at 989.652.3430 ext.105, or email heartoffrankenmuth@frankenmuthcity.com.

Egidio “G” Grossi is originally from Patrica, Italy. He moved to the US in 1955 and opened his first pizza shop in 1977. Today, he is the owner of daVinci’s and sits on several city committees. Photo By: Tina Breinager

How did you end up living in Frankenmuth?
“I was born in Patrica, Italy, 30 km south of Rome in the foothills, a town dates back to the 1500’s. I was 10 months old when my parents emigrated into the US. My mom had 2 brothers in Pittburgh so that’s where we went, however the steel mills were all full so nowhere needed employees. That’s how we ended up in Flint where business was exploding. As I was growing up, a lot of people came to Flint for the same reasons – work. A lot of people ventured into the restaurant business. The Flint journal did an article of the Italian restaurants in the area and it turns out there was 19 of us from Patrica. Between those 19, there were 38 or so Italian restaurants, 4 of which were my family’s. In 1971, I went to college and was running pizza places for my cousin while also looking to open my own. I married my wife, Paula, also from Patrica, in 1975 so we began looking to open up a place together. Since we had so many relatives with places in Flint, we looked elsewhere and I stumbled upon Bridgeport. We opened up a little mom and pop shop called Pompeii in1977.”

How did you end up working in Frankenmuth?
“We stayed commuting to this shop from Flint and we got to know the state troopers quite well which was who recommended living in Frankenmuth. Also around that time, we met John and Leonne Koester who we asked where to live – eventually ending up moving into one of their houses in 1977. They also mentioned putting a pizza place in Frankenmuth. At the time, John was part owner of Bavarian Mall and suggested we set up shop there. We ended up buying the last spot available and opening daVincis on October 10th, 1977. The day before opening I have a painter write “welcome” in German above the door. A passerby called out “an Italian restaurant in a German town will never survive”. Luckily enough we opened and have in the city ever since. Every time I would drive to the mall I would Zehnders that had a 3-4 hour wait. I wondered what I was doing wrong and soon realized that you can eat pizza anywhere in the US, but Zhenders and Bavarian inn are destination places. This steered me towards getting locally involved – specifically with the schools. I coached many sports including 7th and 8th grade track, freshman football, 8th grade basketball, freshman girls basketball, softball, and baseball. All the while, I continued to run my 4 restaurants. Becoming a part of the local community was what made daVincis what it is today.”

What keeps you working in Frankenmuth?
“DaVinci’s has a soft spot for the schools. Whether it is fundraisers where the kids act as wait staff or enjoying meals, it means so much to give back here. When I was coaching in the 80’s we began feeding the varsity football every Thursday before the game. That tradition continues to this to this day. Another time, we were playing against Vassar and had to drive to Bad Axe to play. We were coming back at 10pm and I couldn’t help but think that the kids hadn’t eaten. Because of this, I called up my closing pizza place in Reese and told them to stay open. I brought the whole team and their parents and fed them all. Those are the local ties that have really helped daVincis and that you can see throughout the city as a whole. I get kids that come in that say I used to eat here or that I used to be their coach. The local community is nothing like you can find anywhere and you find yourself wanting to give back in any way that you can.”

What is your favorite part about living and working in Frankenmuth?
“Because I have so many stores I sat on many different chambers so I know that what happens in Frankenmuth is unique. You go to some chambers and half of them don’t speak to each other because of one person being more successful. The question that always comes up is why is Frankenmuth so successful. It is truly because the business community works together. I have no problem calling a business and saying I’m running low on flour, can I borrow some for a day?
That doesn’t work in other communities. The philosophy here is bring people to Frankenmuth and we all get our share and I believe we live by that. That doesn’t happen in other communities.

As far as living here, I wouldn’t go anywhere else. Frankenmuth is its own little utopia. We have amazing police and fire station. It’s a great spot to raise a family. It’s amazing how many kids want to leave as soon as they get older but how many of them come back. You don’t have to worry about yourself or your children because someone is looking out for them. I’ve tried to pass that down to the next generation as they’re the ones that will take the reins. I think the kids here have great work ethic, minds, and ideas and I know Frankenmuth is going to do well as it continues to grow.”

Christy Kuczynski is the executive for the Frankenmuth Farmer’s market and works at Frankenmuth Insurance. Photo By: Tina Breinager

How did you come to be in Frankenmuth?

I’ve always lived in Michigan and from working at Frankenmuth insurance, I knew it was the place that I wanted to live. So, when it came time to buy a house 11 years ago, Frankenmuth was my top choice. When I first came to town I didn’t know anyone so joined the Jaycees. I met a ton of people and made many relationships and learned to love the community even more through our volunteering and project management. I then saw a job with the Frankenmuth farmers market and I decided to put in my resume despite no professional management experience. They took me on and i’ve been with the market for about 2 years on the side of my insurance job.

Why do you continue to stay in Frankenmuth?

I love the sense of community here in the way that we take care of eachother. In Frankenmuth, you really get the small town atmosphere where you feel like you know everyone. Simultaneously, there is so much that the community still offers you. I couldn’t imagine going to any other place and getting that same sense of feel. You are able to live just two blocks from any experience such as theaters, concerts, and festivals. Perfect is the only way to describe it.

What is your favorite thing about Frankenmuth ?

My favorite thing is by far the sense of community – the friendliness of all of the people who live, work, and play here. We hold each other to high standards and we take care of each other to help achieve those standards. 

The community is so clean and put together. Even the way that we approach one another. Specifically, the way that our leaders communicate directly with us – you get real responses from real people whose faces and names you know. You don’t get something that doesn’t sound like humans. It comes from a place of deep caring for our community. For instance, the fact that an officer will come and watch your house if you’re away blows my mind. There is so much heart and soul put into this place.

What is your best memory revolving around Frankenmuth?

When I think of the best memories I think of working the festivals. I get to welcome people to the community and get a sense of satisfaction after it’s over. I go to other festivals and they just don’t feel the same – you don’t have that sense of pride and joy. People travel from afar to participate in these festivals and I get to greet and host them, welcoming them to the place that I love. 

Luke Kanine is originally from Alma, MI. He went to Alma College where he had the opportunity to travel to Ecuador before becoming a substitute teacher in Frankenmuth. Photo By: Tina Breinager

What brought you to Frankenmuth? “During my time in Alma College, I was able to travel to Ecuador. I didn’t originally want to teach Spanish, but going to Ecuador taught me a lot about myself and allowed me to grow. Traveling there planted the seed to move somewhere new and not stay in Alma forever. I needed to get out and make a name for myself elsewhere. So for that reason, when the opportunity came up in January 2013 to fill a long term sub position in Frankenmuth, I took it. 

Frankenmuth was like Walt Disney World: this wonderful place that you’ve heard of and want to visit. That is why after living in Saginaw for two years of teaching here, I decided to move here despite only visiting once before.

I wanted to take on everything and I wanted to solidify the teaching position. I then took on coaching everything that I could. At one point, I was coaching four sports a year. From football to freshman girls basketball to middle school girls and boys basketball. Now i’m doing volleyball and varsity golf.

  I really wanted to show that i’m here to stay – especially for the kids. Sports was a big thing for me and I was glad to have the opportunity to share my knowledge and experiences with the youth. It is great to be in a classroom and have that student-teacher relationship with kids, but as a coach you can push and connect with the kids even more. “

What keeps you in Frankenmuth (living and/or working? “Like I said, Frankenmuth was always this imaginary place. Coaching four sports taught me that I wanted to be closer. When I was actually able to move in (almost six years ago) I fell in love with the place. Even though Alma and Frankenmuth are completely different, it reminded me of home. I see kids riding their bikes and neighbors walking their dogs beside me no matter what time of year. That sense of pride that the community has in making this city look the way it does overwhelms me and I want to be a part of it. When I have kids of my own one day, this is what I want my kids to grow up seeing and where I want them to be. You don’t find pride in one’s city anywhere else like this. The time and effort that people put into the city is incredible.” 

What is your favorite thing about Frankenmuth? “Like I said, Frankenmuth was always this imaginary place. Coaching four sports taught me that I wanted to be closer. When I was actually able to move in (almost six years ago) I fell in love with the place. Even though Alma and Frankenmuth are completely different, it reminded me of home. I see kids riding their bikes and neighbors walking their dogs beside me no matter what time of year. That sense of pride that the community has in making this city look the way it does overwhelms me and I want to be a part of it. When I have kids of my own one day, this is what I want my kids to grow up seeing and where I want them to be. You don’t find pride in one’s city anywhere else like this. The time and effort that people put into the city is incredible.” 

“I really do love my students and the people I work with. As a middle school teacher, your building can sometimes be overlooked. That time between fifth and eighth grade can be so different for kids with the range in maturity levels. I work with an incredible group of people that make that awkward and interesting time really fun for not just the children, but us teachers as well. My coworkers make it really enjoyable. Frankenmuth wasn’t the only job offer on the table but I knew it was a special place with this building, these kids, and these people that I work with. They have the kids best interest at heart; it is something I wanted to be a part of.”

Jim Petteys was the Police Chief for the City of Frankenmuth for 26 years. He was also the coach for both high school and middle school sports. Currently, he still volunteers as the track timer for the highschool. Photo By: Tina Breinager

What is your background?
“I was born in Flint, Michigan. At the age of 12, my dad passed away and my family moved to Alpena. I attended college there and eventually ended up at Northern Michigan University. In 1965, I entered the Michigan state police and from ‘65 to ‘68, I was assigned to the Erie post until 68’ when I was transferred to the Bridgeport post. In June, my wife and I got married and bought a house in Frankenmuth. In 1976, I was placed on a promotional roster for the Michigan state police – meaning a transfer. However, in the fall of 76’, the Frankenmuth chief resigned. Everyone else who was promoted on the roster ended up in the Detroit area, but my wife and I didn’t want to leave our house in Frankenmuth so instead I applied for the chief job here. I got it and stayed in that job for 26 years with zero regrets about leaving MSB to come here.

Not only was I the police chief here, but I also helped coach many of the sports here. In 1983, I was asked by a teacher from St Lorenz, also a good basketball friend of mine, if I would be interested in coaching 7th and 8th grade boys basketball. I was surprised and asked if I could think about it for a day – which was ridiculous because I knew the second I was asked that I would take it. Little did I know that would be just one of the school sports I helped out with.

That was it up until the early 2000s. I’ve been retired for just about 18 years now. I had 26 years of unbelievable times from being police chief, to the basketball coach, to the track timer. Lou Gehrig, when he retired, said “today I consider my man the luckiest man on the face earth.”… I’m sorry Loo, but I consider my man the luckiest.”

What do you love about Frankenmuth? “In 1975, we were having a lot of smash and grabs in one of the stores in Frankenmuth. There were only about 5 of us in the department at the time, but we needed to end it. We put a guy on the top of the Star of the West elevators in the dead of winter. Two guys went up there and took turns on shifts. Low and behold we got them right by St Lorenz. The love and effort that people are willing to put into this city to make it a better place is unlike anywhere else you can find.”

Why do you stay in Frankenmuth? “Someone once asked me why I took a chief’s job when I was going to get promoted. I would have never moved 200 miles away to take a different job in another place as long as I could take the job and live here.

Once I figured out I got transferred to Bridgeport, we stopped at the post office there. I asked a worker where most people live around there. He said a lot of people live here – Frankenmuth. So, we drove over here up through Genesee. Along that route, there were some telephone polls and somebody, probably City Beautification, had planted petunias around them. That was it, my wife said “we’re living here”.

People also ask why my wife and I don’t go south. We had travelled places like Tennessee and Florida a few times. I asked my wife her thoughts and she said “what do you mean, we have a whole family including two grandkids in Frankenmuth, we’re not going anywhere”.

Bob Zeilinger was born and raised in Frankenmuth. He moved back after spending two years in Indiana. He serves as a commissioner for the city’s Planning Commission where he aids the city’s development. Photo By: Tina Breinager

Where are you originally from? “I was born and raised in Frankenmuth, actually not too far from my home today.  I married my high school sweetheart and we recently celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.  My wife, Barb and I raised three children in Frankenmuth. In fact, our children had several of the same teachers we had as youngsters. It is one of the things we laugh about – the fact that I was a member of our Frankenmuth High School coach’s first team and my son was on his last team.”

What do you love about Frankenmuth? “While growing up in Frankenmuth I never considered this question.  Looking back on it, I probably thought the town was too small – everyone seemed to know what everyone was or wasn’t doing – wouldn’t it be nice to live in a big, exciting city.

Barb and I spent two years living in West Lafayette, Indiana while I was finishing my college studies at Purdue University.  It wasn’t until we moved back that I began to appreciate all that Frankenmuth had to offer for us; foremost was reuniting with our church, family and friends.  We found Frankenmuth to be a great place to raise our three children; a safe community, great schools, and within easy reach of major metropolitan areas for larger venues.  We found many opportunities to get involved including clubs, organized sports and a variety of volunteer activities.  Finally, we really appreciate the civic pride that exists in Frankenmuth; pride in maintaining our city and neighborhoods, pride in hosting the thousands of visitors to our city, and a forward-looking mentality to continually try to make our community better.”

Why do you continue to live here? “Frankenmuth is home and our roots are deep.  Both our parents were born and raised in the Frankenmuth area.  All but one of our seven siblings remain located in Frankenmuth.  A good number of our high school friends still live in Frankenmuth. Clearly, family and friends are major draws to remain living here.

More importantly, though, Frankenmuth continues to be a safe and comfortable place to live, work, and play.  In recent years, there has been an even greater emphasis on enhancing the quality-of-life environment for our residents of all ages. As Barb and I get older the winter season seems to be getting less attractive. While we enjoy escaping to warmer weather for periods of time, I can’t imagine being anywhere, but Frankenmuth on a permanent basis.”

Jessica Haynes is the Director of Marketing and Events at River Place Shops. She is originally from Saginaw and moved to the City of Frankenmuth after graduating college. Photo By: Tina Breinager

How did you end up in Frankenmuth? “I grew up in Saginaw area and visited Frankenmuth for the holidays with my family. One of my earliest memories is driving into Frankenmuth around Christmas time and seeing the beautiful poinsettia flowers in the window of Frankenmuth mutual. 

After college, I moved to Frankenmuth and joined the Jaycees to meet new people and learn more about the city. A small town can be very intimidating because everyone grew up together and has their own insider stories. However, the Jayces was a great way for me to meet new people and make friends. Seven years later, I am now an insider and a proud Frankenmuther. I love bringing and sharing with my family, or any visitors who come, that the city is striving to be the best specifically for them.” 

Why do you stay living/working in Frankenmuth? Working – “The Bavarian Inn motto is creating enjoyable experiences. Even before Riverplace, I embraced this through volunteering at festivals. When I started working at Riverplace though, I truly realized how many people visit. I am so fortunate to work at one of the most beautiful places in Michigan and share these experiences with people from all across the world. It is amazing how many visitors come to Riverplace shops. Especially with travelling restrictions, this is the closest you can get to being out of the country. The cobblestone and flowers transport you to Germany or France. In a 20 minute walk around work, I can hear about five different languages being spoken.”

Living – “I am usually working at big events where the town is packed and you can’t find parking to save your life. Living here could not be more different than that. The city has a small town feel where you go to the grocery store and end up having a conversation with your neighbor in line behind you. Even when I take my dog to the park it gives me something to appreciate. I love having the Cass river right in our backyard. It is incredible how many resources Frankenmuth has.”

What is your favorite part about the City of Frankenmuth? “To sum it all up there is something always happening in Frankenmuth. Whether it is a festival or food truck rally or even just a fun night out after the Jaycees, there is always somewhere to be and to greet a friendly face. Even if it is just you walking into Prost and they know your drink or walking into Tiffs where they have your pizza waiting, there is always something going on and you will always know someone there. 

Even though I once was intimidated by a place where everyone knows everyone, I have realized that it doesn’t matter how many people you know. Everyone is so friendly that you will find people to meet whether it’s through the chamber’s ambassador program or through joining the local rotary club – there’s so much potential for growth in Frankenmuth because people are so friendly and open. It is something missing in a lot of other places. You don’t need to lose that friendly neighborhood touch to be one of the top destinations in the world. Our whole outlook is hospitality and creating experiences to include everyone in.”

Sheila Stamiris is the Downtown Development Director responsible for all DDA activities in Frankenmuth. She works with City Staff, Property Owners, and a Board of Directors to determine the overall development objectives and action plans throughout the city.

What brought you to Frankenmuth?

“I was the downtown management board director in Bay City from 1987-2000. After a 13 year run, I got a call towards the end of January – an invitation that changed my life. The call was from Wayne Bronner asking if I wanted the Downtown Development Authority Position in Frankenmuth. At first I laughed, wondering what they need me for. However, I soon realized that businesses in the city had a hard time with the streetscape implementation due to closure. The volunteers all had full time jobs and families to deal with. After my time in Downtown Bay City managing a nationally recognized downtown management program, I was ready for a new challenge. Frankenmuth was the perfect solution for my family and I. I am forever grateful that “opportunity knocked” and I had the foresight to answer the door.”

What do you love about Frankenmuth?

“While my focus has been on “downtown” development and all the aspects this entails, I’ve been fortunate to have influence beyond the district’s boundaries and to be influenced by the same. The Downtown district is a small city in itself. I never forget that this geography is part of a vibrant and strong community that allows the downtown to shine and do things that others will never have the opportunity to even dream about. The authentic Frankenmuth loves and values its people and its places – working in that environment is a gift.”

Why do you stay working in Frankenmuth?

“This community moves forward because you never have (or sometimes get) to do the same things twice. Frankenmuth’s DNA is forward motion – if you’re not learning, improving, and refining, you’re going to lag behind and miss the opportunity to grab the gold ring. The community is driven for better things – for their kids, lifestyles, and environment. They appreciate what is here which many places are not so lucky to do. While the availability of money is always important in a decision, money is never the first question asked. Rather, the purpose of a proposal is discussed and if the proposal has value, the questions shifts from how we can afford this to how we are going to manage this. 

Of course, no matter who I meet in the course of a day, it is the people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of serving with that have made a sometimes tough job not so tough. I credit the volunteers who serve on my boards and the highly skilled staff who wear many hats at City Hall for their leadership, commitment, and support. This is a volunteer crazy community who lives by the thought that many hands make for light work. With so many owner-occupied businesses, those who work here, live here. This gives civility and solidifies that rising tides raise all boats and people work communally toward common goals.”

Keith Gere

Keith Gere is the owner of Willis Sausages alongside his wife Jackie. The couple moved to Frankenmuth and purchased the store in 2015. They have continued to highlight its historical character while also blending their own newer style.

What brought you to Frankenmuth? “Around 2008 the recession hit and I was on reduced employment and began looking for a more stable job. A roofing company was looking for an engineer so I applied. I got the job and my wife and I moved to Frankenmuth – specifically for the school system. The jump from roofing to sausages is a roundabout story. I’ve made turkeys and smoked ham out of my barn for 20ish years. My family was looking at opening a Jerky store for retirement. However, 5 years ago in the Sunday paper there was an ad for this old store for sale. While I didn’t know anything about making sausages, I hoped I would get the hang of it. We became the owners within 5 months. I continued working at my job with the previous company, but doing both became too difficult. I would wake up and go to work from 6am to 6pm, come home for dinner, and then go to Willis until 2am.”

What keeps you (the store) working in Frankenmuth? “In the 40s the store was created and then it was bought by Willi in the 70’s. The owner in between Willi and our family thought he wanted to make sausage, but ended up importing 100% of the product. As a result, it has been a transition in the last 5 years to bring everything in-house. Willi has helped because he got in contact with us and came back a couple times a year. During that time, he worked with us to show the employees how to use all of the equipment. We were learning from a master being that he got his sausage making degree from Germany. He still comes back from time to time and we let him pretend he owns the place – he even orders around the staff. 

While all the recipes are still Willis, I’ve added more of my own stuff. We don’t let go of any of Willi’s recipes because of tradition. We have tourists come in all of the time who tell the same story of visiting as children, finding their favorite recipe, and grabbing a beer with Willi. You see families who come in and there’s generations of them who come from all over and they make their yearly trek to come up to visit.  While we make our own stuff, we’d never give that up. Making sausages is more of an art form than anything else.” 

What is your favorite thing about working in Frankenmuth? “Being in the city it has so much to offer. They do such a great job as far as bringing in festivals. It is a very well run city. The businesses all get along and the people are so nice. It’s a tight knit community and while it is small, it still has all the amenities. There’s so much to do here apart from all of the stores. It’s very compact and quaint and you get to know a lot of the business owners. We’ve been blessed with all of the businesses that come out and support locals by selling our stuff and we do the same to theirs. I choose to buy and sell local not just for convenience but also giving back. The people here look out for one another.”

Keith’s wife Jackie also states that “everyone takes care of each other… especially through COVID. When people have the same issue they connect with one another. It gives you contacts and helps you feel like you’re not alone.”

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