Aspen Skiing Co. to take over family-run Gwyn’s High Alpine at Snowmass in 2020
October 18, 2018
After 40 years, Gwyn's High Alpine on-mountain restaurant at Snowmass is set to change hands, as Aspen Skiing Co. will take over the family-run establishment when the current lease runs out after the 2019-20 ski season.
A family affair, the restaurant is led by its namesake, Gwyn Knowlton, and George Gordon — who opened the doors to hungry skiers in 1979 — and now their daughter, Whitney Gordon.
"We have always thought that Whitney, (with) George and I helping, would be able to continue it on," Knowlton said Thursday, "and so we were kind of shocked when we talked with the ski company and they told us that they had decided not to renew the lease."
Conversations with Skico regarding the restaurant's next chapter started toward the end of last month, Knowlton said. Skico owns the 20,000-square-foot building, which the family rented via four 10-year leases.
Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications, said Thursday assuming Gwyn's High Alpine is part of the company's long-term strategy to own and operate all of the dining facilities across its four mountains.
"We've really grown our food and beverage division and programmed our mountains accordingly," Hanle said, "and this is just part of that long-term strategy."
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He pointed to Cafe Suzanne, which was demolished and replaced by Elk Camp restaurant, and Ruthie's restaurant at Aspen Mountain as examples. Skico also invested $6 million in renovations to Gwyn's in 2016.
While future plans for the restaurant are to be determined, Hanle said Skico wants Whitney Gordon to be involved in its next iteration.
"Gwyn and her team, her family, have done an amazing job for a long time," Hanle said, "and we're hopeful that Whitney will stay with us and continue to carry on the legacy."
Gordon grew up at the restaurant that she manages today.
Her 6-year-old son, James, runs around the place and rides on the back of the snowmobile up to Gwyn's at 6 a.m., just like his mother once did.
Gordon said Thursday she is interested in working with Skico in the restaurant's next phase and to help to ensure a smooth transition.
For Gordon, that means bringing with her a number of seasoned staffers from Gwyn's.
"That's part of what makes (Gwyn's) what it's been for all of these years," she said. "Our family obviously plays a big part in it, but some of those long-term employees who have made all the soups, and who know all of the customers — those people are really important to us too."
Echoed Knowlton: "Our concern right now is not only for the immediate family, but all of our family that have been our employees for so many years."
Gwyn's employs about 90 people, some of whom have been with the restaurant for more than two or three decades. The restaurant also boasts an approximate 50 percent employee return rate, which is "pretty amazing" for a seasonal spot, Gordon said.
Along with loyal employees, Gwyn's is known for its repeat visitors and families.
On Christmas morning, a family of four generations celebrated the holiday together at Gwyn's, Knowlton said. Other Gwyn's enthusiasts already have made reservations for this Christmas.
"It's got a great and dedicated following and clientele," added Hanle. "I think we'd be silly to go too far afield from that."
Such a scenario would be best-case scenario for Gordon and her family, with the hope that the next establishment "looks very similar to what it is now," she said.
The family wants to "make the absolute best" of the situation, Knowlton said, although it will be a major change for them as well as their employees and customers.
"It's been our lives," she said. "We'd hoped to continue that tradition."
Along with remaining optimistic, part of making the best of what is means going out with a bang.
"Obviously it's an emotional time for us," Gordon said, "but in these last years, we just hope we're epic, both with snow and with everyone coming up to celebrate with us."