Two former Ohio University chefs will bid goodbye to the bakery and heat up the hearth as they collaborate to reopen the Lake Hope State Park Dining Lodge in Vinton County six years after the restaurant went down in flames.
When construction plans to revitalize the historic lodge began a year ago, Matt Rapposelli, former OU executive chef, wasn’t interested in trading truffles and tarts for wood-fired flavors — yet.
“The architect who was working on the project said they were going to be rebuilding this beautiful lodge and they needed an operator, so it might be something to consider,” Rapposelli said. “All I had seen was drawings, so I wasn’t really interested at the time.”
Before the dining lodge burned down in 2006, it was an important community staple, serving guests staying overnight in the park’s cabins and anyone passing through Vinton County, said Park Manager Coy Lehman. The entire community was behind replacing the facility, he said.
“People would be standing in line just to get into the dining hall for dinner or lunch,” Lehman said. “The lodge was a part of Vinton County, and that’s the reason the community got so involved in wanting this back.”
It wasn’t until September when Rapposelli and his business partner Eric Lee, chef manager of the OU Bakery and Vegetable Preparations, visited the almost-furnished building and agreed to take up the task, Rapposelli said.
“When we went out to see it once it was built, that’s when we realized: Oh my God, this is really, really nice,” Rapposelli said.
Rapposelli and Lee finished their final day at the university Oct. 3. They immediately began preparations for the dining lodge in order to open right after construction ends in the coming weeks, Lee said.
Both Rapposelli and Lee began working at the university bakery together before managing their own food businesses in Athens. Lee said he bought specialty bread for his food trailer, The Red Wagon, from Rapposelli’s baking company in Canaanville, Ohio.
“I knew nothing about opening a restaurant, but Matt knew a lot about it,” Lee said. “He helped me out a lot.”
Rapposelli and Lee reconnected when they were both hired at the university in 2006. They focused on transitioning the bakery to making food from scratch and using local foods and ingredients, Rapposelli said.
“The students are getting outstandingly fresh products and the dollars are supporting local community members,” Rapposelli said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”
The two plan on continuing their efforts to utilize local foods at the dining lodge. The menu will reflect a wood-fired theme, featuring ingredients produced in Ohio, Rapposelli said.
“When you get away from a such a mammoth institution where so many people have an input on things, it’s nice when you can just get down to the nuts and bolts of making something happen quickly,” Rapposelli said.
Ohio University Culinary Services thanked Rapposelli and Lee for their contributions in a statement released last week.
“We are grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such talented, passionate and experienced individuals; we wish them every success in future endeavors,” the statement read.
Like Rapposelli, Lee is looking forward to moving to a new environment, but said some aspects will remain unchanged.
“It’s great serving the students at the university,” Lee said. “It was a wonderful job and I’m looking forward to doing the same type of stuff — making everything from scratch and making unique things you can’t find everywhere.”