It just isn’t the holidays without a gingerbread house sighting, and for those who’ve been deprived of that spectacle so far, a trip to Cafe Kindred to observe their annual masterpiece will satisfy your craving.
Each year, Cafe Kindred owners Jen Demetrio and Gary O’Hanlon choose a different building in the area to immortalize in gingerbread. This year’s construction honors Washington, D.C.’s own Union Station. The “house” comes complete with white-icing piped onto each angle of the structure, candy canes, peppermints and Hershey’s Kisses serving as everything from windows to architectural embellishments, and, of course, large green wreaths adorning the station’s entry ways.
“Union Station is such a great Christmas building,” Demetrio said. “We had some people come in and try to guess what it was, but as soon as we put on the wreaths, they knew it was Union Station.”
The cookie-fied iteration of Union Station is the grandest the pair have done so far. In Cafe Kindred’s fourth year of doing the gingerbread house, they’ve started small with The State Theatre in 2015, then upped the ante with the Capitol Building the next year followed by the Smithsonian Castle last Christmas. Each creation has gotten bigger and bolder as the two become more experienced heading the project up themselves.
Constructing a gingerbread house is a trick of the trade Demetrio and O’Hanlon learned during their time working in hotels where it was seen as a good way to really set the Christmas mood in the industry. And Demetrio and O’Hanlon’s dedication to the craft is evident in the 60-ish hours they pored into their finished product.
Demetrio says they start scouting out buildings to model in October, with a decision on which building to do by Halloween. This two-to-three week process is followed by making blueprints for the design (which includes researching aerial photos of the building as well). Then comes mixing the dough, which O’Hanlon typically leads. Following that is baking the sheets of gingerbread — Demetrio’s forte — that are eventually broken down and pieced together into the immaculate final form that stands right by Cafe Kindred’s entrance. Though just because the two have gotten more used to the process doesn’t mean it’s any prettier.
“We make an insanely long list of how many pieces we need and then the dimensions. So we make really big sheets, and then just cut out whatever we need for the size. It’s nonsensical list that all comes together in the end,” Demetrio added with a laugh.
Making the house is also no Hallmark movie-style romantic activity for the husband-and-wife duo that head up Cafe Kindred. O’Hanlon typically works on the building while the restaurant is open, and Demetrio puts her time in once the store is closed for the day. They work in shifts, but they also get the job done — albeit, about a week and a half later this year, since they missed their original target date of the day after Thanksgiving.
Demetrio and O’Hanlon originally wanted to keep the annual project locally focused. After doing the State Theatre, however, they found a dearth of eye-catching buildings to construct. The only other Falls Church options were some of the City’s historic homes, but they don’t translate well to gingerbread form for a feature of this scale, per Demetrio.
The gingerbread house will remain up until the week after the New Year, so if you’re taking down the tree and putting it curbside, chances are you’ll have to wait until next year to see what Cafe Kindred unveils.