Aspen official, restaurateur, philanthropist

Passing Date: 
Monday, January 21, 2019

Werner F. Kuster, 93, longtime owner of Aspen’s Red Onion, died January 21 in Tucson.

Born into a hotelier family in Berlingen, Switzerland, Kuster apprenticed at age 14 to a pastry chef in Lucern. He learned to ski while working in resort hotels in St. Mortiz. After a year as a baker in the Swiss Army, he joined the kitchen staff on the Holland-America Line’s S.S. New Amsterdam.

In 1949, he jumped ship in New York and landed a job at the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center. That same year he was recruited by Arnold Senn, chef at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen. Drafted into the U.S. Army, he spent the Korean War teaching climbing and skiing at Camp Hale. He returned to the Jerome in October, 1952. In 1953 he partnered with Senn to buy the Red Onion.

Over the next quarter-century Kuster hired jazz bands, hosted the U.S. Ski Team and staged benefit dinners for the local hospital, schools, ski club and other noprofits.

In 1966 Kuster was elected to the city council, and later served on the Pitkin County Zoning Board and Colorado State Land Commission. He helped to pave Aspen’s streets and build the city water system. A colorful raconteur and generous philanthropist, he was elected to the Aspen Hall of Fame in 2003.

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