50 years of Vail friendship, fun and fine dining at the Lancelot
Hermann Staufer, Pepi Langegger, Werner Schadl celebrate a half-century of memories
VAIL — Hermann Staufer and Pepi Langegger have been buddies since Bermuda, and still are.
They’re neighbors and business partners, but most of all lifetime friends. Their first business together, the Lancelot, is 50 years old this year. Their friendship predates that.
Staufer landed in Vail from Bermuda around Christmas 1964 after his brother Joe invited him out to ski. In fact, it was the same brother who invited Staufer from their native Austria to Bermuda, where Staufer and Langegger met.
“I had some money in my pocket when I arrived in Vail. By the end of the season it was all gone,” Staufer said, adding that it was time and money well spent.
Before long, Staufer and Langegger both needed jobs. They wandered off, then wandered back to jobs in Vail, Langegger as a food and beverage manager and bartender, Staufer as an assistant manager and waiter.
They planted the seed for the Lancelot in The Lodge at Vail’s Candlelight Room. The menu was uncomplicated: prime rib and salad. A chef named Fritz promised them that if they opened a restaurant he’d give them his prime rib recipe. He kept his word. They’re still using the recipe. If something works, you stick with it.
Manfred and Isabel Schober wanted to build the Bell Tower building, but couldn’t get financing until they leased the basement. Langegger and Staufer signed a 20-year deal.
FirstBank of Vail was where Wild Bill’s Emporium is now, and almost everyone trooped over for a chat with president Bob Young for construction loans, and loans to get them through the mud season and summer.
Vail Founder Pete Seibert and several others had the grand vision for the town. Staufer and Langegger had planned to put the boiler on the creekside of their restaurant. Gore Creek’s bank was so overgrown with weeds that they couldn’t see the water as it rolled past.
“Pete came by and suggested we put the boiler on the side away from creek. He said it would soon be a beautiful plaza,” Staufer said.
Vail was a small town with dirt streets in the 1960s. The first pavement didn’t arrive until 1969, the year the Lancelot opened.
When Vail locals sited in their rifles for hunting season, they placed targets where Manor Vail is now. You could rent horses and ride anywhere you and your horse agreed to go. If someone had a party, everyone went.
The iconic Clock Tower was a steakhouse. The Vail Village Inn hosted a nightly melodrama. Live entertainment was everywhere: The Red Lion, the Casino, rock music at the Nu Gnu, Sheika’s and the Vail Village Inn among them.
“Everyone pulled the same way to make Vail a success,” Staufer said.
Swinging through the seasons
Lancelot opened Feb. 21, 1969. Vail Mayor John Dobson cut the ribbon. The restaurant almost went under immediately. One of the other Vail Village restaurateurs fought Staufer’s and Langegger’s liquor license, insisting that the half-dozen liquor licenses in town at the time were enough. The two had to hire an attorney who cost them $5,000 to lead them through the bureaucratic morass. It took two months and the 1969 season was almost over.
“We’d have 100 reservations and do 40 dinners. People wanted drinks with their dinner,” Staufer said.
They’re next to Vail’s Children’s Fountain, which was off the beaten patch in 1969.
“In those days people walked up and down Bridge Street, and didn’t look much further,” Langegger said.
Summer business was almost nothing. Staufer and Langegger would take turns working the floor and the kitchen. They’d switch spots the next week.
“I never washed so many dishes in my life, but we couldn’t afford a dishwasher,” Staufer said.
When the Lancelot was slow, they’d go fishing in Gore Creek as they waited for customers. Regularly they sampled their wares.
“We weren’t making any money, but we ate and drank well,” Staufer said. “I still love prime rib.”
They remember the time they were having lunch in the Red Lion — a couple of hamburgers for $2.50 each — and struggled to cover the tab and tip.
Friends for life
Staufer and Langegger were together 30 years, a long time for any relationship.
“We disagreed occasionally, but that did not matter as long as it was good for the customers and made the product and the business better.”
They own neighboring ranches near Silt and are neighbors in Arizona.
They were partners in the Lord Gore with Peter Stadler and chef Hans Wassmeyer; the Blue Cow which became the Tyrolean; and the Iron Kettle, now Sweet Basil.
They saw families enjoy the Lancelot, then those families’ children and grandchildren.
“That was what I enjoyed most about going to work,” Staufer said.
Celebrities wandered in and out of the Lancelot. Elvis stopped by for a drink in 1976 while spending a few days in Vail. Elvis wore a ski mask so no one would recognize him.
Staufer and Langegger bought the Lancelot space in 1980 when the lease expired. Eventually, they sold it to their chef, Werner Schadl.
“I put an ad in the Vail Trail in 1990 looking for a job. They called me, and I’m still here,” Schadl said.
Post-war Austria was no picnic
Staufer was raised in post-war Austria with no electricity. He had running water when he ran to fetch it.
His dad fought in World War II and was captured. He escaped after two years in a POW camp in Yugoslavia. He walked home to Austria.
“I didn’t meet my dad until I was 9 years old,” Staufer said.
Staufer studied the hotel business in Austria before his brother Joe enticed him to Bermuda with a ticket and $10. Staufer worked as a busboy, waiter and about anything else anyone would teach him.
Brother Joe was the first to discover Vail while driving from New York to California in 1962 when he and his wife stopped in Vail for a quick break. Joe ran into Seibert who made him an offer he could have refused, but didn’t.
“We have a restaurant and don’t know how to run it,” Seibert told Joe Staufer. Joe and his wife never did make it to California.
“Housing was a problem, even then. Joe moved 12 times his first year in Vail,” Staufer said.
Staufer became a U.S. citizen in 1976 because he wanted to be involved in his new country’s affairs. He served two terms on the Vail town council.
Staufer lost his wife, Gloria, to breast cancer at age 42. He raised two small children in Vail while helping run all those businesses. He says he ran on autopilot for several months, but the fog finally lifted.
He moved all his early Vail memorabilia to the ranch near Silt, but a fire destroyed everything.
Still, history is the stories of the people they met.
“When you serve 60,000 to 100,000 dinners every year, you get to know a lot of people,” Staufer said.