Photo Caption: The new Lake Hope Lodge and Restaurant is nearing completion.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has contracted out dining services with Ohio University's soon-to-be former executive chef to operate a restaurant at the new Lake Hope State Park lodge, slated to open next month.
Matt Rapposelli gave his notice as executive chef at OU last week to begin preparation to take over dining services at the new lodge. The long-time former lodge and restaurant burned down in 2006.
He said Thursday that the lodge is all-dining, with no lodging, but is situated among cabins at the state park, about 20 miles west of Athens.
Rapposelli and business partner Eric Lee signed a contract with ODNR early last week to operate the dining services, he confirmed.
The facility will feature a full-service restaurant and a banquet and meeting room setting, as well as a quick-service food area and a bar. Rapposelli said that the partners have not yet acquired a liquor license, however.
Rapposelli and Lee are slated to begin the first week of October, and he estimated that the dining areas will be open in mid- to late October, depending on construction.
"As soon as it's turned over to us, we're going to dive right in," he said.
Rapposelli noted that a state park typically hosts a wide variety of visitors, and the goal with the menu will be to appeal to this broad spectrum of clientele.
"What we're doing is focusing on regional Appalachian cuisine with a wood-fired component," he said. "We have an all-wood-fired smoker so there will be wood-smoked meats. We'll have a wood-fired flatbread oven. And then a menu that is all made from scratch items using as much Ohio product as possible."
The lodge itself and the atmosphere Rapposelli described as gorgeous and spectacular.
He said the outside is all Ohio quarry stone, and the interior consists of the same stone built around a rough-hewn timber frame structure that used all locally milled wood.
"For lack of a better term, it's elegantly rustic," he said, adding that the dining room itself has an all glass end overlooking Lake Hope.
It's decorated with locally made wood furnishings as well, he added.
Rapposelli said that over a year ago he was informed that the restaurant project was coming up.
Recently, the ODNR put the food service contract out to bid and the state didn't get any bids, he said.
"The architects got in touch with us and said, 'Boy, you should really look at this project; it's a spectacular opportunity,'" Rapposelli recalled. "And now the building was actually up so we went out and looked at it, and we decided, 'Oh boy, it's about perfect.'"
Another appeal for Rapposelli personally, he said, was that his original career was within the parks system.
"I'm a bit of a naturalist so for me it's kind of a coming-back-full-circle type of thing," he said. "I can combine the two things that are very important in my life."
Park manager Coy Lehman said Friday that feedback so far has been great and people seem excited about the lodge coming back.
"I think we're going to be pretty busy," he predicted.
The new facility will feature a larger check-in area, and the park office will actually be located in the lodge now, which it wasn't before, he said.
Rapposelli said that there's a lot to do in a short period but he's looking forward to getting up and running.
Rapposelli formerly owned and operated the Big Chimney Bakery in Canaanville, which closed in 2006 after 11 years of operation.