Queen of strudel reigns at Bonnie’s on Aspen Mtn.
Ryan Summerlin March 11, 2012
ASPEN – She’s got one of the best jobs in Aspen: She commutes to work via chairlift and skis; she makes people smile; she serves apple strudel, apple dumplings, cakes and pies for hours on end but never gets fat.
It’s only fitting that her name is Muffin.
Muffin Dole is working the dessert counter at Bonnie’s restaurant on Aspen Mountain for her ninth ski season. In a way, she’s the face of Bonnie’s. The desserts always have been strategically placed first in the chow line at the legendary restaurant started by Gretl Uhl and originally known as Gretl’s. As the sign hanging in the restaurant declares, “Desserts first, life is uncertain.”
Dole, 63, adds to the fun of going on a calorie binge. She always has a smile, regardless of how busy the restaurant is. She talks fast but takes time to visit with customers passing through. She’s always willing to make a recommendation and provide a taste to a diner in doubt.
“I’m dramatic behind the counter,” she acknowledged.
Best of all, she whips the cream on-site and heaps it on the goodies.
Dole said “the smiles on people’s faces” are some of the things she likes best about the job. Many customers get a tortured look on their faces while trying to decide which of the delectable desserts to snare. Dole watches where their eyes go, then offers them a taste of that dessert. She makes everyone think they made the best possible choice – and that makes them happy.
“We follow our strengths, and mine is people,” she said.
She moved to Aspen during the dry ski season of 1976-77.
“I left the ski capital of the east, Stowe, Vermont, and came here,” she said.
She soon started spending her summers here as well. Her jobs in Aspen have always been people-oriented. She was a waitress at Guido’s Swiss Inn and Toro’s restaurant, and then she worked at Aspen Mulling Spices for years filling boxes and as a sales representative. She started a housekeeping and property management company but found demand for her services declined after the influx of Hispanics in the late 1980s and 1990s. By the early 2000s, she needed to supplement her income.
“Why don’t you just work at Bonnie’s?” she recalled her haircutter asking her. Dole thought it was the perfect job. She loves skiing and being outdoors, and she always loved Bonnie’s. She was interviewed by Brigitte Birrfelder, who immediately declared her perfect for desserts.
“I have the cake job – first in, first out,” Dole said. She’s on the Silver Queen Gondola by 9 a.m., takes four or so runs then reports to the restaurant by 10:15 a.m. On powder days, she has the flexibility to take a few extra turns, as long as the dessert counter is prepped in time. Bonnie’s has three excellent bakers who start cranking away on the desserts early in the morning. Colorado rome apples are in cold storage at the mid-mountain eatery. A hand-cranked, cast-iron contraption is used to core and peel the apples. Many of the dessert recipes are the same that Uhl brought with her when she opened the restaurant.
The renowned apple strudel sells best, Dole said, but Bonnie’s is also famous for carrot cake and chocolate cake, various pies and dumplings with a whole apple.
Dole dishes the desserts up Saturday through Monday. It’s a great way to get to know people, residents and visitors, she said. She remembers many customers’ preferences from one season to the next.
Her day wraps up by 2:30 p.m. She usually squeezes in a few runs to end the day.
It’s an ideal life, Dole said. She lives in a 365-square-foot studio apartment with a 600-square-foot deck in the Old Tom Thumb Building across from the Wheeler Opera House. She walks to the hill and rides her bicycle year-round.
“I’ve gone full circle. I’m back to being a ski bum,” Dole said, noting she learned to ski as soon as she could walk, first at small ski areas in her native Maine, then in Vermont.
She misses old friends like Tom and Marci Benton. All of her old girlfriends are dead, she said, victims of a hard partying life of an earlier era. She wised up in the 1980s and changed her ways, she said.
Now, her identity is more closely tied to desserts. Someone recently sent her a hand-crafted postcard featuring apple strudel on one side and a picture of Dole on the other. Not a bad legacy to build.
“I’ll probably be working there until I’m 90,” Muffin said with a signature smile.