Chef carries on decades-old holiday family tradition at Beaver Creek hotel | VailDaily.com

Chef carries on decades-old holiday family tradition at Beaver Creek hotel

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com
Shelves are lined with hand-painted, porcelain, miniature Dickens Village pieces, which recently went on display in the Park Hyatt's library, certain suites in the hotel and at 8100 restaurant in Beaver Creek. The massive and priceless collection was made available by 8100's Chef Christian Apetz.
Justin Q. McCarty | Special to the Daily |

BEAVER CREEK — It’s not too often that you get to share a piece of your family at the office, as well as every customer you serve, but that’s exactly what chef Christian Apetz gets to do this holiday season.

Apetz, executive chef at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, recently inherited a 2,500-piece Dept. 56 Dickens Village collection from his grandparents. For those of us who aren’t collectibles aficionados, the Dickens Village collection is a Victorian-style porcelain display, and each year it brings a limited edition rendition of a quaint, holiday-inspired village.

For Apetz’s grandparents, William and Mary, collecting each piece of the picturesque village scenes was a passion, and from 1984 to 2005, they collected scores of the collectible items.

A Christmas tradition

When the Apetz grandparents retired, they moved to Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, where each Christmas they would set up their entire Dickens Village collection in the living room and hold village parties for their neighbors.

“Every year they’d clear out all the furniture in their living room and set up this entire village. They’d start in October and have it up until early November, because it took a whole month to set up,” said Apetz. “They set it up because they wanted to have little parties, inviting different friends from around the lake to come to their house and have drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The village grew larger and larger every year.”

Chef Apetz remembers looking in wonder at the intricate pieces at their home on Christmas vacation, along with his brother and three cousins.

“We grew up together and all have memories spending holidays together. Seeing the Dickens Village was a part of it. There was no way to spend time with the grandparents on the holidays and avoid the village,” he said.

The story of the village took a sad turn when Mary Apetz was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2005. Soon after, the Apetzes stopped collecting the village pieces, and in Mary’s later years, her husband would visit her daily and sometimes bring pieces of the village to her in hopes of reviving a memory. She passed away a couple years later, and her husband followed close behind.

A new life for the village

Their cherished village sat in boxes for years, as the family wasn’t sure what to do with it. Then, chef Apetz’s uncle had an idea. Why didn’t the chef display the pieces at the Park Hyatt?

Apetz presented the idea to the Beaver Creek Park Hyatt, and the management liked the idea. The village was shipped to Denver, and Apetz drove down to the Front Range with his two daughters and the hotel manager to bring it up to Beaver Creek.

“I’m thinking, ‘It can’t be that much right?’” remembers Apetz. “We go to pick up this storage pod that they’d been stored in, and a forklift comes and drops off this big pod. We looked inside and it was completely full.”

They packed two SUVs to the bursting point and drove back to up to the mountains and began the monumental task of sorting through the pieces.

“We realized that they really did fit into the resort. What better way to set up a hand-painted, holiday-inspired, porcelain-painted town than in a winter destination resort?” said Apetz.

Now through the beginning of January, guests and visitors can see parts of the Apetz collection on display in the hotel’s library, in the 8100 restaurant and the brand new Antlers Bar in the hotel lobby. Ice skating children and the twinkling lights of brownstone churches light up the library, while the clinking of glassware accompanies the display of the village saloon scene at the Antler’s Bar. In 8100, diners have been enjoying scenes such as the Kidney and Mutton Pie Shop. Parts of the collection will also decorate some of the hotel’s suites at guests’ request.

“You should see the chef’s face light up when he looks at one of them,” said Tom Puntel, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “He’s fulfilling the vision of his grandparents to share them with people. I thought, ‘I’ve got to get them up.’ This is definitely going to be a holiday tradition for us.”

The village hasn’t gone unnoticed among guests. A number recognize the collectibles and have asked hotel staff about them. Apetz especially enjoys the attention they get in the restaurant.

“It’s kind of neat to watch kids looking at these pieces, and it makes me think of when I was a kid looking at my grandparents’ decorations,” he said. I’m going to let this village live here indefinitely. My grandparents truly wouldn’t want these sitting away in a box.”

Puntel added that the village has been another way to make connections with guests.

“This provides a different experience than they would get elsewhere and a platform to hear stories and start a conversation about Christmas experiences,” he said.

Assistant Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.