Vail’s success due in part to the Gramshammers’ hard work
“Pepi wanted me to stay in Vail, but I had to return to New York to finish my shows,” Sheika recalls.
Pepi was busy with the Head Ski Company and went to Europe, where Sheika joined him during the summer. There they bought a red Porsche and took the boat back to the United States.
“We had to have separate cabins, because at that time if you were not married you could not share a cabin,” said Sheika. “On Dec. 6, 1963, we were engaged and wanted to stay at the Hausermans’. I told Blanche I wanted to stay in Vail, but Blanche said I couldn’t. She said I could come back to Vail as Mrs. Gramshammer, and that what we were doing was improper. I told her she was absolutely ridiculous and that I didn’t want to go back to Aspen – I wanted to be with Pepi. But that’s the way it was, and Blanche had a lot of say with Pepi. I stayed with him that night, but the next day I went back to Aspen.”
Sheika was back in Vail on Jan. 7, 1964, for a pro race. While Sheika was cheering for Pepi, her friend Kay Cheek asked her when she and Pepi were going to get married. Sheika said that she didn’t know and that she didn’t think she was ready yet. Kay told her not to do what she had done, because when Anderl Molterer had asked her to marry him, she had said she wasn’t ready – but when she did want to get married, he didn’t. As a result, they never got married. Forty years later they are still together but not married.
So, right there Sheika said, “Okay, that’s it – I’m going to marry him but not tell him.”
They looked at the calendar and decided on Feb. 3, because there was a race in Aspen on Feb. 2. Kay said she would help with everything, so they didn’t tell Pepi. They made all the arrangements, but Sheika didn’t know that a blood test was required and she therefore had to tell Pepi.
“We’re getting married Feb. 3,” she told him.
He said he didn’t want to.
She then told him, “That’s it! It’s over!”
But Pepi went to Aspen and had the blood test, and they were married Feb. 3. Pepi asked me to be his best man, because he felt I was responsible for his being in Vail and he loved it so much. Sheika asked Kay to be her maid of honor, because Kay had convinced her not to wait. After the service in St. Mary’s Church, they had a reception at Guido’s Restaurant in Aspen that was wild. They then went to the Red Lion in Vail, and that party lasted all night.
The Gasthof Gramshammer was built during the summer of 1964. I offered Sheika a job managing the Plaza Building, which had about 13 suites. This was her training period in the hotel business.
“We started building the Gasthof in May, and Dick found himself another manager,” Sheika said. “In the summer I went to business school for six weeks of intensive training. I then worked as a bartender for Larry Burdick at the Red Lion. We opened the Gasthof Gramshammer on Dec. 18, 1964. In the beginning, everyone had one goal, and the goal was Vail. The last name of all of us could have been Vail. If I could pick, I would be Sheika Vail. That was our goal, for better or worse. There was no jealousy or greed.”
The opening of the Gasthof Gramshammer was a bash. There was free wine and beer and a cash bar. Anthony Guadami, an Italian marquis known to most as Tony Gaines and a wine merchant from Denver, and who later became a real fixture in Vail, furnished most of the liquor for the bar, because Sheika didn’t know what to start with. At that time, very few people drank wine or beer.
Pepi and Sheika made enough money that night to pay for their liquor license. Tony was a lifesaver for many people. When he first set up the bar, knowing that the Gramshammers didn’t have money to pay for it, he said, “Don’t worry – you can pay for it next April when you have money.”
They put a little aside every week to pay him. Tony Gaines was superb. He was well respected in the community and was always included at parties.
“The whole thing was a learning experience,” Sheika says now. “We were lucky, because in the beginning we were not that busy, so we could make some mistakes. It was not as crucial as it is now. It was hard to get good people to stay, and we had to be careful not to spend too much money.”
“I had cooks at first, and we did all right – nothing really special,” Pepi adds. “Then we got a Swiss guy named Charley. It was his second year in Vail and he came from a country club in Denver. As soon as he came on, the restaurant started doing really well because he was an excellent chef. That’s when we learned that even though a good chef costs more, it brings in a lot more business. We started to learn and we grew into the business. We traveled a lot and stayed in many places all over the world. We remembered what worked for them and what we liked. The business really grew as we learned.”
The Gramshammer story is unique, and it continues to grow. It started with Gasthof Gramshammer, which included a restaurant, a sports shop, and hotel rooms. Later, a night club, “Sheika’s,” was added, featuring annually the Ink Spots. After many expansions, the hotel today has 40 rooms. The restaurant is one of Vail’s favorite watering holes, and Pepi Sports has few equals. In addition, Pepi owns and operates a resort at Red Lodge, Mont., that consists of a hotel, a conference center, a ski area, a summer ski camp, and a golf course – another thriving business.
Both Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer have charismatic personalities. They are both active and outspoken in community affairs. Their prime interest is keeping Vail a place to enjoy. For years, Pepi and Sheika put on the major fund-raising, black-tie Crystal Ball. This annual gala event ended in 1999 because its main objective – to bring the world championships back to Vail – had been accomplished. Pepi was a main player in the event’s success.
The Gramshammers have friends the world over and are as popular as any couple in Vail. Celebrities clamor for their friendship. After befriending President and Mrs. Ford in 1968 during the Fords’ first trip to Vail, the Gramshammers have spent evenings at the White House (yes, even in the Lincoln Suite). Their hard work has made a monumental difference to this community.
Editor’s Note: In a continued effort to help the community understand its roots, the Vail Daily for a second time is serializing Dick Hauserman’s “The Inventors of Vail.” This is the 93rd installment, an excerpt from chapter 12, “The Ever-Increasing “New Locals.” The book is available at Verbatim Booksellers, The Bookworm of Edwards, Pepi’s Sports, Gorsuch Ltd. and The Rucksack, as well as other retailers throughout the valley. Hauserman can be contacted by phone at 926-2895 or by mail at P.O. Box 1410, Edwards CO, 81632.