Hocking Valley Railway dinner car

The interior of one of the dining cars offered through the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway. Alfonso Contrisciani is the head chef during the round-trip excursion through Athens and Hocking Counties. Provided Photo.

A Columbus-area chef is bringing an Italian bakery to the Nelsonville historic public square — and fine dining to the Hocking Valley Railway.

Alfonso Contrisciani, a certified chef based out of Thornville, is excited to bring Alfonso’s Italian Bakery and Kitchen, which will offer a variety of baked goods and Italian sauces and dishes, to Nelsonville’s historic square.

Contrisciani said the bakery could be open as soon as late March.

He told The Athens Messenger he envisions Nelsonville as a future locale for tourism, drawing in customers from Lancaster and Columbus.

“Is someone going to drive an hour for a loaf of bread — I doubt that — but I see Nelsonville on the verge of becoming a tourist attraction,” Contrisciani said. “I think Nelsonville is going to become a hotspot — if it’s not already.”

Alfonso’s Italian Bakery and Kitchen plans to offer specialty bakery items such as French and Italian breads, cannoli, eclairs, cinnamon rolls, and Contrisciani said he even wants to expand into the doughnut business.

“There’s really not too many places that you can —if any — get good Italian bread and French bread in this area,” Contrisciani said.

The bakery will also offer prepared meals like salads, sandwiches, stromboli, and calzones. He also said they will be selling specialty Italian sauces.

The bakery will be going into 19 W. Columbus Street, the former site of Sunflower Bakery. Liz Florentino, the owner of Sunflower, will stay on as a “stakeholder” in the bakery, and will help prepare some of the baked items.

Contrisciani said he saw the potential for a lively downtown in Nelsonville before the pandemic hit, and wants to help redevelop that atmosphere he felt on Friday nights in town.

“We gotta get the square hopping,” Contrisciani said. “I know it’s going to come back pretty strong.”

He emphasized he would be offering the items in his storefront at a conservative price to encourage folks to come in the door.

In addition to the bakery, Contrisciani has started his dinner car train ride through the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway.

The Hocking Valley Railway Dinner Train is a 3-hour, round trip through historic southeast Ohio back-country from Nelsonville to East Logan, according to the railway website. The dinner car for the dining experience was built in the 1950s and was refurbished in the 1980s.

Contrisciani offers a four course meal during the scenic trip. He said the first voyages were on Valentine’s Day weekend, to a resounding success. He said the Valentine’s Day trip booked within days with no advertising, and when he added Friday and Sunday trips for that weekend, they booked even quicker.

Last weekend, Contrisciani ran another sold-out train on Saturday that offered a cajun-style dinner.

“It’s a home run no doubt,” Contrisciani said.

The train holds 12 tables that seat four each, and costs $75 per person for the three-hour excursion.

Contrisciani emphasized he believed in Nelsonville’s future and planned to continue making investments in the town.

“I’m willing to invest in the town when I get this bakery going and get a few more storefronts,” Contrisciani said. “I see a great future for Nelsonville.”

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