Jon Lovitch was 18 and working as a saute cook in the Hyatt Regency Crown Center Hotel when he first got the idea to build an elaborate gingerbread village. The year was 1994 and the Paseo High School graduate was chatting with the hotel’s head chef when he noticed a picture of a gingerbread house in the chef’s office.
Lovitch was an aspiring chef and was eager to make an impression in the culinary world. He had no experience building a gingerbread house, so he found a Betty Crocker cookbook and started working on the very first Gingerbread Lane.
“I lied and told everybody I had done it before many times and that I knew what I was doing,” Lovitch said. “I just wanted to try it and I gave it a try to see if I could pull it off.”
The first Gingerbread Lane installation was composed of 14 little gingerbread houses and was on display at the Crown Center Hotel. Lovitch said that the 14-house Gingerbread Lane drew a lot of attention from the surrounding community and media and since then the gingerbread village has continued to grow.
This year marks the 28th year of Lovitch’s Gingerbread Lane exhibits. Each year, he installs four to five exhibits in cities across the country — that’s 50 separate installations over the years.
Lovitch and his gingerbread is back in Kansas City for the first time since 1999. You can check out Kansas City’s Gingerbread Lane at the National Toy and Miniature Museum at 5235 Oak Street. The exhibit will be at the museum until January 15, 2023. Admission to the museum is around $8 or less and tickets can be purchased here.
“It really is very special, very unique,” said Sarah Biegelsen, a spokesperson for the National Toy and Miniature Museum. “We just love the response from everybody. Whether it’s guests who have never come to the museum before and this is their first experience. The people who work here love it as well. So it’s just been overall a positive experience for everybody.”
Kansas City’s Gingerbread Lane has 400 gingerbread houses, made up of 180 pounds of gingerbread, 720 pounds of icing, 277 pounds of candy and 900 eggs. That’s about half the size of New York’s Gingerbread Lane, which currently has 700 houses in total.
Although Kansas City’s Gingerbread Lane is smaller, it holds a special place in Lovitch’s heart.
“It’s really exciting for me to get back there after all this time. I would like for people to see how [Gingerbread Lane] is really inspired by the city,” Lovitch said.
Gingerbread Lane has helped Lovitch see the world. Since 1994 he’s produced exhibits in New York, Texas, Salt Lake City, Florida, Norway and more. Lovitch said that his installation of 120 gingerbread houses for the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., in 1996 really helped the project grow.
“The reaction continued to get bigger and then we started to attract the media, then at the end of the 2000s, the social media aspect, and it just grew every year. [Now], 28 years later, here we are,” Lovitch said.
Each iteration of Gingerbread Lane pays homage to Kansas City with glimpses of local landmarks like Crown Center’s ice rink or even a chocolatier shop inspired by Russell Stover, even when it’s on display in different cities.
“As a young guy growing up, Christmas, obviously, was just a big spectacular time of year in the Midwest…and that was definitely a driving force, you know, behind what Gingerbread Lane became,” Lovitch said.
When Lovitch found out that he scored a contract to bring Gingerbread Lane back to Kansas City, he said he started blaring “Kansas City” by the Beatles and singing to the top of his lungs.
“I was like ‘oh my god Kansas City here I come,’” Lovitch said. “It was just so exciting to get back there.”
Lovitch said Kansas Citians visiting this year’s Gingerbread Lane at the Toy and Miniature Museum should keep an eye out for special clues and nods to the City of Fountains.
In 2013, it set the Guinness Record for the largest entirely edible gingerbread village, beating his own record multiple years in a row. Today, he still holds the title for the largest edible village with 1,251 houses, a record he set in 2015 at the New York Hall of Science.
Lovitch’s career as a professional chef continued to grow as he became known as a master gingerbread house builder. While in New York City, he became the executive chef at The Plaza Hotel in 2000 and the Algonquin Hotel in 2013 until 2016.
But seven years ago, Lovitch decided to make Gingerbread Lane his full time career and said he enjoys the extra time he gets to spend with his family, while spreading Christmas cheer across the country.
“It definitely just created a sense of euphoria within me that I really loved how much people identify with it,” Lovitch said of Gingerbread Lane.
If you are interested in seeing the exhibit, the museum is open on Wednesdays through Mondays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here.