New York - In 1993, Jon Lovitch -- then a chef at a hotel in Kansas City -- entered a gingerbread house-making competition and lost.
"Really kind of angry about it," he said nearly three decades later.
Unable to rinse away that sugary taste of defeat, Lovitch resolved to create his own gingerbread village the following year.
"A lot of people were taking pictures of it," he said. "And back in 1994, taking a picture was a real big commitment."
Lovitch has expanded Gingerbread Lane every holiday season since, eventually leaving the restaurant business to build gingerbread houses full-time by himself.
"I've found that anybody helping me annoys me instead of helping me," he said.
Lovitch creates his dessert civilizations from scratch with the mixer in his Queens kitchen.
"I still burn through two or three of those each season," he said. "They don't like gingerbread. It's just too darn stiff. They probably don't like making 4,000 pounds of icing a year either."
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Lovitch has set multiple world records for the most structures in a gingerbread development, installing his villages in multiple locations across the country, requiring he make more than 2,000 houses every year.
"This is actually a light year," he said. "To only do a little over 1,100 is actually minuscule from what I'm used to doing."
Lovitch worried the pandemic might force him to scrap his 2020 installations. Gingerbread Lane's primary home, The New York Hall of Science, closed for the year, forcing this gingerbread artist to explore other possible build sites.
"It is sort of a stunning process about how they come in the door and which ones come in first and which ones you can tell he has the most connection to and how they're handled," Long Island Children's Museum Communications Director Maureen Mangan said.
Mangan called hosting Gingerbread Lane this holiday season a joyful, multi-sensory experience. "You can smell the gingerbread," she said. "There's holiday music playing. There's lights."
"You can't recreate what you get by seeing little kids pointing," Lovitch said.
Around 500 structures make up the Long Island Children's Museum's subdivision of molasses and icing. Lovitch drove another 600 gingerbread buildings 31 hours to a theme park in College Station, Texas. "I can't trust anybody else to drive this," he said.
With all his creations now on display, Lovitch has freed up his finished basement in Forest Hills for human occupation once again.
"It looks like peoples' living rooms in a lot of cases but with a couple thousand gingerbread houses," he said. "Lot of stacking. Lot of vertical."
Gingerbread Lane at the Long Island Children's Museum runs through Jan. 3. Lovitch has already started work on his villages for 2021.
"By New Year's Day," he said, "I'll be working every day again getting ready for next season."