The Café Lafayette Dinner Train based in Lincoln, NH was recently sold to long-time employees Mike and Ali French. The train had been operating under the same ownership out of Lincoln, NH since 1989 as one of only 12 moving dinner trains in North America. In 25 years of operation, the Café Lafayette has become synonymous with the White Mountain region of New Hampshire.
The train takes guests on a journey back in time via a two-hour, 20 mile round trip voyage along the shores of the picturesque Pemigewasset River. The dining experience consists of a five-course meal that is famous for the use of local meats prepared to order, greens and herbs grown fresh from its own garden, homemade breads and desserts. “Owning such an iconic business, in such a special location is an amazing opportunity,” stated Café Lafayette owner Ali French.
After several decades dedicated to operating the train and the fine-dining experience, former owners Lance Burak and Leslie Holloway decided the time had come to retire. Hoping the region would not lose an icon, they began the search for new owners. Mike and Ali possessed the interest and ability to handle the unique operational requirements having 16 years of combined work experience on the train, and a thorough knowledge of the business.
Northern Community Investment Corporation (NCIC) was brought in to partner with Community Guaranty Savings Bank (CGSB) to facilitate the sale. Rick Burgess of CGSB and David Keenan of NCIC met regularly with Mike and Ali to design a solution that would work for all parties involved. “Facilitating the sale of the Café Lafayette was somewhat unconventional given the sale included train cars, as well as, the business itself. All parties involved did a fantastic job of staying focused on creating an agreement that consisted of many elements,” stated NCIC Business Resource Manager David Keenan.
In September the sale was finalized and a new era for the Café Lafayette Dinner Train had begun. In the interest of ensuring a smooth transition with no impact on the guest experience, Lance and Leslie agreed to become employees for a fixed transition period. “We are very thankful for CGSB’s and NCIC’s support, and obviously for Lance and Leslie showing the confidence to pass the business on to us,” stated Café Lafayette owner Mike French.
The train consists of three beautifully restored Pullman dining cars that operate during the spring, summer and fall months. The new owners don’t anticipate any significant changes to the operation.
“Operating a business that is such a unique experience and making lifelong memories for your guests becomes your passion. We would not have been comfortable selling the train to buyers who didn’t appreciate both the historic aspect of the train operation, as well as the fine dining experience,” stated past owner Lance Burak.
To learn more about the Café Lafayette visit: www.NHdinnertrain.com.