Gwyn’s High Alpine, Snowmass Ski Area’s family-owned on-mountain restaurant, was in the news again this week when Snowmass Town Council passed a 3-2 resolution of “strong support” for keeping the 40-year-old establishment locally owned. It was announced earlier this year that Aspen Skiing Co. would not extend its lease to Gwyn’s because the company wants to take over all food and beverage operations on its four mountains.
Currently, SkiCo manages nine of the 11 restaurants on the mountains, with the exception of Gwyn’s and Bonnie’s. So while I feel badly regarding Gwyn’s and the Gordon family, the impending issue here is the eventual SkiCo takeover of Bonnie’s. The restaurant’s lease with SkiCo is in “full effect” for the next five years, according to the company’s spokesperson. After that, we shall see.
SkiCo’s desire to manage all of its food and beverage operations is understandable. They do a great job, and why not extend that consistency to every touchpoint for guests? From a business perspective, it allows them to control the user experience.
But one has to agree that part of the Bonnie’s magic is that it’s not SkiCo. The restaurant was started in 1966 by German ski racer Gretl Uhl and her husband, Sepp. The Uhls built Gretl's Restaurant and ran it for 14 years. When Uhl passed away, Bonnie Rayburn purchased it in 1980. She updated the name and added a white bean chili to the menu, but little else has changed since it first opened, according to news reports.
That likely won’t be the case once SkiCo assumes control. It’s sort of like when Starbucks put lots of local coffee shops out of business, and then introduced cafes disguised as neighborhood coffee shops. They didn’t have the big logo and offered the amenities of smaller cafes, but no one was tricked into thinking they were anything but Starbucks. I’m sure SkiCo’s apple strudel is also delicious, but will Muffin be serving it?
Both sides have valid viewpoints in this future debate. That’s why the Gwyn’s spectacle is painful to watch unfold; even the Gordon family members acknowledge their friendly relationship with SkiCo and are sympathetic to the move, but it’s still hard to watch another corporate takeover of a special family business.
The good news is that Bonnie’s opens for the season on Dec. 15, based on prior years’ calendars. Calls to the restaurant and SkiCo couldn’t confirm the opening date, and an inconsistently updated Facebook page didn’t offer much either. Restaurant regulars said they often just get text message updates from staff to let them know when Bonnie’s opens for the season. That sort of grassroots, organic approach is charming – just the way it should be.
Christine Benedetti writes about food here every other week. Mostly the plant kind. She’s editor-in-chief of Aspen magazine, but you can reach her @cabenedetti.