What does Peter Franke, head chef at Pepi’s on Bridge Street, like to make more than anything?”Turns,” he says with a mischievous grin.And in that one word is a surprisingly clear picture of Peter.Peter grew up in a Bavarian town called Oberstdorf. And though he’s quick to point out that being 60 years old makes it tough for him to remember his childhood, he’ll also tell you that there’s a phrase in life that he lives by: growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.Peter Franke began his apprenticeship in cooking when he was a bright-eyed 14-year-old, something that was fairly common at the time.”At that time, it was normal to do that,” Peter says. “During those days, it really wasn’t much of an option, if your parents didn’t have the money, or if you didn’t have the ability to study, you had to go into some kind of vocation.”Peter worked in Germany and Switzerland as a chef, before obtaining a visa to come to the United States for six months.”(At first) I only came for about six months,” Peter says, “to meet cowboys and Indians. I went to Houston, Texas. I liked it so much the people were unbelievable. I couldn’t speak a word of English and everyone pulled out a bottle from underneath their convertible and there was always a party in a swimming pool somewhere.”Somewhere along the way, six months turned into a lifetime for Peter. Missing the mountains, Peter used to drive to Aspen to ski and eventually he took a job in Denver, where he met his future wife, Patty.”She opened up Stapleton Plaza also in Denver,” Peter remembers. “I was the manager that day and I called in and she said she just got held up by a couple of people that took all of the cash, and I had to come in. That’s when I met her. Twenty-eight years later I’m still trying to find those two guys, but don’t print that.””Yeah, I was a white knight,” he laughs. “We started dating and then we got married and then we got kids and then we got in debt and now we’re here.”Peter decided to make the move to Vail when his first daughter, Brooke, was just a few months old. Back then, when the highway was just two lanes, you had to get up at 5 a.m. to get here to ski, he says. That cut into his nightlife, he jokes, so he decided to find a job in Vail.Peter’s first job in Vail is the one he still holds today, something unheard of in a place where job loyalty can be rare.”I started right here at Pepi’s,” Peter says, “Twenty-five years ago. I got stuck twice once in America, and then stuck here at Pepi’s,” Peter laughs.For Peter, the cuisine at Pepi’s fit his own style perfectly.”It’s my background. We’re not changing every five minutes with trends, just to go with the nouveau. We stay with the same old bratwurst and Weiner schnitzel. And it’s what people expect. They just expect basic food and somehow they get it,” Peter laughs. “Well, sometimes they get it, anyway.”For many second homeowners and repeat tourists, Pepi’s, and Peter himself, are among the attractions to see in Vail.”He has quite a following at Pepi’s,” longtime friend Stewart Eves says. “I think a lot of people, when they come to Vail, it’s one of the highlights of their trip. They eat and then Peter comes out to tell them a joke.”Helmut Reiss, a second homeowner from Laguna Beach, Calif. often skis with Peter when he’s in town.”I ski with him, but he’s an early riser,” Reiss says. “He wants first tracks because he has to come back (to Pepi’s) and make sure the goulash is in good shape. He’s a very sincere person and a joyful person too; he has more jokes than anybody else.”Most mornings Peter can be found making fresh tracks, nabbing a solid few hours of skiing before heading into the restaurant.”The last couple of years I finally got smart,” Peter says. “And as the Germans say, we get too old too soon and too smart too late. There isn’t a better feeling than coming back, especially after a powder day, and going into work and everyone is asking, ‘How was it up there?’ and saying, ‘Well, it was good, but now it’s sh*tty, go up there and see.'”Peter and Patricia raised their two daughters, Brittany and Brooke, in Vail because of the small-town atmosphere, even though that led to some complaining on the part of the girls.”I can remember the girls growing up here and saying, ‘It’s boring up here, there’s nothing to do,'” Peter says. “Now they get back from college and they can’t believe how lucky they were to grow up here. It was the same thing with skiing; when I dragged them up in the morning or I put them in Ski Club or Devo, it was like pulling teeth, ‘How many runs do we have to make today? Can we go in for hot chocolate now?’ Now they say, ‘Thank God you took us up there.’ We all have a tendency with our parents to not believe them. Years later it finally sinks in, but in the beginning it doesn’t make any sense.”Other than the skiing, Peter says he stayed in Vail all these years in part because of the summers, when he spends a lot of time outdoors.”I love the summers, the climate is fantastic in the summer, I wish I were adventurous and could say that I climb the fourteeners, but we have a gondola, just so you don’t have to hike ’em.””And besides,” he adds regarding having stayed all these years, “I didn’t make enough money throughout my 25 years here to buy a decent car that would allow me to pack up and leave town. It would probably break down in Silverthorne. So I will probably stay.”The wonderful thing though, you get the urge to leave in the mud season, in the fall or even in the middle of the winter, but what happened to me is that you enjoy yourself so much going somewhere else, laying on the beach or whatever but then you can’t wait to get back up here. You drive over the pass and when you have to roll the windows back up, then you know you’re almost home.”And Vail is, and always will be, home to Peter Franke. VTCaramie Schnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.