Lancelot restaurant celebrates 50th anniversary in Vail
Original and current chef-owners reflect on milestone
The year was 1969 in Vail, when the streets weren’t paved and there was no parking garage and you could get a cut of prime rib for $4.95 at the Lancelot.
February 21, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Lancelot restaurant in Vail. There were only six restaurants in Vail at that time when Hermann Staufer and Pepi Langegger decided to get involved in Vail’s restaurant scene.
“There were six liquor licenses and one person said ‘the pie is only so big, and the thinner you slice it, there’s nothing left for the others.’ Can you imagine what Vail would look like today if there were only six liquor licenses?” Staufer said.
“The town council and the state board of directors were clever enough to grant us a liquor license for the Lancelot as well as the Blue Cow.”
When Staufer first moved here, he was the assistant manager at the Lodge at Vail. That’s where he met Langegger, who was the food and beverage director at the Lodge at Vail.
“That’s when we talked about opening a restaurant together. We started out with the Lancelot first, the next one was the Lord Gore in Manor Vail, another one was the Blue Cow and then a little one called Iron Kettle, but we sold that lease and the new owners eventually created Sweet Basil. It was a lot of work, but we had five restaurants going at one time,”Staufer said.
In the early days, Staufer and Langegger would take turns working the front of the house and cooking in the kitchen, often times washing their own dishes.
“Pepi and I would also take turns fishing out back while we were waiting for customers to come into the restaurant,” Staufer recalls.
The floor plan of the original space didn’t have the large windows overlooking Gore Creek like they do now. In fact, there were no windows facing north.
“Back then, you couldn’t even see Gore Creek. It was surrounded by willows and really a muddy trek to get back there, but Pete Seibert had a vision for what it would become,” Staufer said.
“Pete said that we should move the boiler room, which would have been on the north wall, to the opposite wall. He knew that one day there would be a beautiful area out there where people would be walking along on a nice paved path,” Staufer said. That area eventually got cleaned up and became what we now know as the Gore Creek Promenade.
The Lancelot made a name for itself with its fun vibe, a dance floor, waitresses wearing jean skirts and cowboy boots and of course their signature dish, the prime rib.
“The place was roaring in the 80s. There would be times when we’d put out a sign that said, ‘booked out for the night, get a reservation for tomorrow.’”
In the early years, an order of surf and turf would get you a small prime rib cut and a lobster tail with a potato, Caesar salad, bread and a glass of wine for $6.25. A pitcher of Chianti was $3.50 and a glass of Chianti was 65 cents.
“When we first started out, the summers were not very busy and it was a struggle. It was slow enough we could ride our horses into Vail and have a beer at the Red Lion. But now summer is very busy in the village,” Staufer said.
It was the summer of 1990 when the current chef-owner, Werner Schadl first visited Vail.
“I was reading a dining guide magazine that featured Lancelot and saw that Hermann Staufer was the owner but I couldn’t find the place. We stayed at the Sitzmark Lodge, only a couple of doors down, but I walked by it,” Schadl said.
“After I left, I put an ad in the Vail Trail saying that I was an Austrian-trained chef looking for a job and an opportunity to move to Vail,” Schadl said.
Schadl had worked in Austria, Germany and New York before getting the opportunity to come to Vail after Staufer, who was also from Austria, answered his want ad. They worked together and then Schadl eventually took over the restaurant in 1997 and remodeled it in 2011.
The decor may have changed over the years but the prime rib is still a best seller on the menu. (Watch today’s video to learn how that dish came about). It addition to the three sizes of prime rib of beef being served, (house cut: 8 ounces, Sir Lancelot: 10 ounces, King Arthur cut: 12 ounces) the menu has expanded and includes several fish entrees and dishes like veal ambrosia.
“It’s a lot of hard work and we have our challenges, but my dream to open my own restaurant in America came true,” Schadl said.
As Staufer reflects on the past five decades, his memories bring him back to the reason he came here.
“I always had a wonderful time coming to work at the restaurant. It was never for the money, I was always excited to see the people throughout the years,” Staufer said.
“I had a customer come in for dinner a couple of days ago and he said, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so good to see you.’ He was a boy when I had met him. His parents passed away but now he brings his children in here. It’s wonderful to have these memories.”