Gustafson: Secret ingredient

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

Add a pinch of sour and a dash of avarice and, before you know it, the secret sauce is spoiled.

Every master chef has a secret, a way of preparing a dish that no one else can recreate. It’s an art. And though the recipes may be leaked, the magic resides only within the genuine creator.

Much like the chef’s secret ingredients, a successful restaurant, one that can stand the testament of time, owns the story behind the meal. Where a strong narrative lives, the meal becomes an experience through the details of the place, the menu and the people.

Once the narrative becomes contrived, no one can come along and resurrect a superfluous story.

What is happening to Gwyn’s High Alpine is a micro-reflection of the state of Snowmass Village; something so good, so beloved, so popular that it is being undermined by the bottomline.

There is an enormous sentiment growing around town regarding the decision Aspen Skiing Co. has made not to renew the lease for Gwyn’s, the 40-year-old family-run business. It’s the last one of its kind in Snowmass, and our community is devastated.

That place, a home on our mountain top, has probably contributed more to this community’s history than any other restaurant we have left.

It is of course emblematic of the ecosystems that sustain a resort that small businesses and restaurants in particular struggle to survive as costs continue to rise. But Gwyn’s is not just surviving, it’s thriving. Why? It’s the secret ingredient, the honest narrative behind a true story of a hardworking family who have lived, now for generations, a lifestyle that affords all of their guests an experience unlike any other.

Establishments that function as essential and beloved links in the community are a big part of the reason that vacationing feels so good, different and exciting.

Operations like Gwyn’s are the amenities that make a resort attractive, unique and valuable. They are the places touted by real estate agents looking to close the condo sale or make the high-end pitch. They are the reason our guests return year after year instead of seeking new adventures, because they fall in love with the sincerity. And those places, they are going extinct here — and perhaps everywhere while our homogenized, globalized world begins to reek of hypocrisy. One day soon, I fear, we will be looking around at our cookie-cutter resort and beg for the return to anything authentic.

But the overall theme is that the big guys are going to push and shove at us, and it’s not really going to change a thing. Eventually we will just fall in line and forget what it was like when we had scruples. But what I see is something more ominous. I see a town hanging by a thread of integrity, decorated in a facade of “commitment” and edging toward a narrative as false as a fake smile on Instagram. We don’t need to have good stories anymore, we just need an ad campaign or good filter — and it makes me sad.

Just as Skico attempts to seduce its customers with promises of “authenticity” and “integrity” — oh yes, and lest we forget “commitment” — the capitalist machine continues to grind away at the little guys in its quest for profit. I lament that it seemingly can’t be stopped.

We claim to be searching for ways to preserve the stores, restaurants and bars that give our resort its character and economic value. With national chains prevailing and our own conglomerate monopolizing the ski resort niche, today here, tomorrow everywhere USA. We slowly diffuse everything unique and mass produce the vacation experience. Gwyn’s is a treasure that ain’t broke, so let’s not break it.

Soon it will not matter where you are as long as you can pin your location on your Twitter account to prove you went somewhere that once had unique style, but now can only stake claim to a name that has lost touch with everything that made it famous.

To me, it is ripping the heart and soul out of our community. Especially when it comes to the places we truly love. And while there are fewer and fewer places for people to just get together and talk with each other, we constantly chatter about the need for community connectivity while eviscerating the places that actually exist where we do come together. In this supposed era of communication, communication is at an all time low. Who is running this machine and why are we all so complacent?

Are we really going to be forced to sit back and become another extension of the homogenizing outside world of hard-charging, fast-moving, tech culture that seems to value money over community?

Paris’ Vital’Quartier program helps the city’s planning department buys buildings in historic neighborhoods and leases space at reasonable rents to character-building cafes, bookstore and the like. In Buenos Aires, the Bares Notables program certifies food and drink establishments deemed of cultural importance. And in London the Assets of Community Value program allows a neighborhood’s residents to nominate places like pubs in recognition of their social interest. Since 2013, in the UK, designated businesses qualify for tax breaks and grants, and there also is a “community right to bid” that allows neighbors to organize to propose a cooperative plan for businesses if the properties go up for sale.

It starts with our favorite bar and restaurant but soon we’re losing all of the character that matters. Architecture isn’t all that’s worth historically preserving. People really do matter. Skico: Gwyn’s is a family, but by extension, it’s all of us.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at


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