Jon Lovitch, who grew up in Buckner and now lives in New York, has made a name for himself in the Guinness Book of World Records for a gargantuan gingerbread village, known as Gingerbread Lane.
The edible exhibit, now displayed at the New York Hall of Science, consists of hundreds of houses immersed in icing and stuffed with candy. For full context, the exhibit weighs over 5,000 pounds and stands about seven feet high.
Lovitch, who works as a chef at Algonquin Hotel in New York, grew his exhibit from 157 houses in 2013 to well over 900. If that’s not enough, the magic is made from his own oven at home, with each house crafted by hand. “My wife likes the fact that I can work from home and I’m not gambling or drinking,” he told The New York Times.
Lovitch’s mother, Vicki, said her son’s obsession with Christmas extravagance dates to boyhood– he would string up to 10,000 Christmas lights outside. “One of my favorite Christmas memories was decorating our house with lights,” he said. “There used to be a Christmas light decorating competition every year. I would start in October and decorate everything–trees, bushes and all of the house. I thought it was a lot of fun competing against adults and property owners at age 13 and 14.”
As for his inspiration to become a chef, it came from an unlikely place. “I got a job at Worlds of Fun working for one of the amusement park’s chefs,” Lovitch said. “Working with him really inspired me and I knew at the age of 14 that it was what I wanted to do. Here I am 25 years later and doing what I love.”
Lovitch’s journey from Buckner to New York also has hometown roots. Living in the middle of town, he and his dad would drive to Kansas City on the weekends and hang out at Crown Center, the Plaza and areas near the downtown area. “I was drawn to the city atmosphere,” he said. “I eventually enrolled in the magnet school program and a cab would come to my house and take me to Paseo High School. I just loved the city concept.”
Lovitch went to culinary school at Johnson County Community College, and worked at the Hyatt Regency Crown Center hotel. From there, he spent 11 years in Washington, D.C. working at Hay-Adams and Manor Country Club hotels and then moved to Pittsburgh. Now, he resides in New York.
With the success of Gingerbread Lane, it’s safe to say that New Yorkers have lucked out. Not only do they get to see the exhibit, but they get to eat it, too. The display is disassembled after the holiday season and Lovitch gives pieces away for visitors to enjoy. One impetus behind creating the gingerbread village is also connected to Buckner: losing one of the decorating competitions back at home as a teenager.
“Being a chef, people may remember my meals for a day or two, but with gingerbread, I can get thousands of people at a time checking out my work,” he said. “I’ve gotten emails a year later, thanking me for it.”
In the 2016-2017 season, Lovitch used 748 pounds of candy, 3640 pounds of icing, 630 pounds of gingerbread, 1480 candy canes, and 3200 sticks of cinnamon gum. This holiday season, Gingerbread Lane is celebrating 25 seasons. Lovitch finished this year’s edible exhibit on November 7, according to Gingerbread Lane’s Facebook page. He frequently shares the process with fans through live Facebook videos. This year’s exhibit features a special gingerbread building—a toy store named “Cecila’s Toy Chest” after Lovitch’s daughter.
The process restarts shortly after the exhibit is disassembled. Lovitch has the timeline down to a science:
January: The current village gets torn down.
February: Photography from the previous season is reviewed.
March: Draft designs of the new concept begin.
April: Icing supports and bridge making begin.
Late May: Trees, snowmen and signage creation begin.
Late June: Candy mosaics begin.
Late July: Work begins on heavier houses like the ones completely covered with candy.
September: Work begins on the larger houses.
October: Work begins on the smaller houses.
Late October: Shutters, wreaths, signs, trains and cable cars are created.
November: Work is completed.
For more information, visit Gingerbread-Lane.org. Check out Gingerbread Lane’s Facebook page, facebook.com/gingerbread.lane.1/. Recipes provided by Jon Lovitch.