The brownstones, street signs, gas lamps and old signs of New York City inspire the intricate designs Jon Lovitch creates out of gingerbread each year. Lovitch, a.k.a. "The Gingerbread Man," holds the Guinness World Record for largest gingerbread village, and he's almost ready to unveil this year's GingerBread Lane creation at Chelsea Market in Manhattan from November 26 to January 7.
Year after year, Lovitch whips up thousands of pounds of icing and bakes hundreds of pounds of gingerbread to create massive gingerbread towns. Expect to see about 1,000 gingerbread houses, stores, breweries, dance studios, pizzerias, bakeries, ice cream parlors and more at the display. Look for pink nutcrackers drawn from the decor at Essex House, an ice rink as a nod to Rockefeller Center, a few homes that resemble those in Forest Hills, Queens, and lots of other NYC-inspired details.
Lovitch's basement studio in Queens feels like Santa's workshop. Gingerbread houses crowd every available surface—tables, shelves, couches, bookcases and windowsills. Anyone walking through must carefully shimmy through narrow paths. A forgotten icing bag rests on a railing. The air smells vaguely sweet. Purple jelly beans, orange Skittles, pink M&Ms and red gummy candies serve as shingles covering the top of each gingerbread creation.
While his process feels magical, it's also extremely hard work. Lovitch starts crafting each year's GingerBread Lane in December, taking just a few days to rest. To keep costs low, he scours stores for deals on candy after each holiday from Christmas to Valentine's Day to Easter. It's not uncommon for him to buy 300 bags of M&Ms at a time if he can find them cheap.
Baking anything requires precision, but baking something that can stand on its own for months at a time demands extreme expertise. As a professional chef who has worked in some of America’s most coveted hotel kitchens, Lovitch knows the formula to create these intricate pieces with success. He lets the foundation of each gingerbread house solidify before decorating. He's careful to ward off humidity and bugs from his studio.
In addition to the New York City display, Lovitch is making three other iterations of Gingerbread Lane this year, which will travel to Kansas City, Houston and Philadelphia. Lovitch personally delivers each village to its location, setting up each house with care. After the holiday season, he gives away the gingerbread houses for people to display at their own homes.
While every creation is made of real icing, real gingerbread, and real candy, they are not edible. Many of the materials are expired, hard-as-rocks and have been sitting out for months.
If you want to learn how to make your own gingerbread house, Lovitch offers classes because he knows it's not an easy task.
"The reality is, it's a good way to end up in family therapy because they just they keep falling down over and over and over," he jokes. Now that Lovitch has years of experience, he knows how to prevent the frequent falls. Lovitch made his first gingerbread house as a teenager in Kansas City in 1994 when he made 14 gingerbread houses as part of a display at a local hotel. He loved seeing guests react so gleefully to the display, and it sparked his passion for this seasonal creation.
Over the years as he lived in different cities for work, including Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh, he’d display the growing GingerBread Lane in those cities as well. Now in New York City, the annual display has become a beloved tradition.
He revels in the chance to watch from afar as people walk through the display, which welcomes all ages and all religions ("everything is secular so everybody can enjoy it," he says).
“You find yourself just kind of immersed in the scenery, the smells, you’re awe-inspired for a brief moment. It’s nice to be able to make people happy, especially in New York,” Lovitch says. “It has just such a wonderful escapist quality.”
Find GingerBread Lane at Chelsea Market in Manhattan from November 26 to January 7 near the hallway with the twinkling lights. It'll be on view during market hours, 8am-9am daily.