Aspen Mountain’s independently-owned restaurant opens for season
Today marks the 52nd year of the opening of Bonnie’s Restaurant on Aspen Mountain, and for many longtime locals, it marks the real kick-off to ski season.
“Bonnie’s has never opened before Dec. 15,” said Brigitte Birrfelder, who took over the restaurant’s operations from Bonnie Rayburn in 1998.
The place was bustling Friday morning, with the core crew preparing all the favorites for the opener, including the famous apple strudel first made by Gretl Uhl, who built the two-story cabin with her husband, Sepp, in the 1960s.
They called the place Gretl’s Restaurant until they handed it over to Bonnie Rayburn in 1980, and then the torch went to Birrfelder.
“The band is back together,” said Andrea Cherny, who has worked at Bonnie’s for 16 “glorious” years. “We are working the magic.”
The nearly all-women kitchen spent the better part of Friday making all the local favorites — oatmeal pancakes, white bean chili, homemade pizzas and fresh salads.
Cherny and Caroline Kimm were furiously chopping onions and parsley Friday morning, and assistant restaurant manager Marlene Mickey was following the recipe for the pancake batter.
Birrfelder had just returned from a supply run and was making sure the computers and cash registers were working.
She said it’s business as usual this year, and the only new thing is the kitchen floor. Most of the 40 people she employs are returning, and many of them have worked there for decades.
“Rosebud” and Willie Klein are back again this season on nighttime trash duty, and “Muffin” will be the first one to greet people in the food line selling baked goods and greens.
Customers will see Joe Paz on the grill, who has been at it for 15 years and a bus boy before that.
“I love it here,” he said.
And so do die-hard skiers like those in the Dogs ski gang. They’ll likely be at Bonnie’s today, as will ski patrollers, instructors and on-mountain crew members who will chat up longtime locals about the happenings going on in town 3,000 vertical feet below them.
Burnie Arndt, an Aspen Skiing Co. ski school videographer and a regular at the restaurant, is one of them. He told The Aspen Times a few years ago that he considers Bonnie’s the soul of the mountain.
“It’s family, it’s local, and all the food is handmade with love,” Arndt said. “People don’t consider the ski season really starting until Bonnie’s opens. Opening day is when Bonnie’s opens.”
Bonnie’s is one of two on-mountain restaurants that are independently owned; the rest are owned and operated by Aspen Skiing Co.
The company dealt with some criticism earlier this year for ending its lease with Gwyn’s High Alpine at Snowmass, which has been operated by a local family for nearly 40 years.
The decision to end the lease two seasons from now is part of Skico’s goal to run all restaurants internally.
Mike Kaplan, president of Skico, said during a Nov. 5 Snowmass Town Council meeting that the company would not necessarily take over Bonnie’s because of its size.
He told The Aspen Times after that meeting that taking over Bonnie’s is “not automatic.”
Birrfelder said she plans on sticking around as long as she can.
“I have five years left on my lease,” she said. “Skico has been good to me.”
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