A number of years ago, restaurateur Kent Andersen was vacationing on the Isle of Capri, off the southern coast of Italy, when he and friends took an evening stroll that landed them in a lovely restaurant with a dining terrace situated in a grove of lemon trees.
After returning to the States, he found himself constantly recalling dinner under the branches of those Italian trees. “The fragrant smell of lemons mixed with good friends, great food, and fantastic views made for a remarkable dining experience,” says Andersen, executive chef and partner in La Jolla Groves restaurant in Provo, Utah. “When we designed the dining room for La Jolla Groves, our inspiration was to recreate the feeling of that evening.”
To accomplish this setting, he commissioned NatureMaker, a sculptor of steel trees, to create a grove of 12-foot-tall lemon trees in the main dining room. Of the six trees comprising the indoor grove, Andersen says, “We wanted to bring the out-of-doors indoors—without making the effort seem contrived. The craftsmanship and materials create realistic representations of trees and transform our dining room.”
A white-linen-tablecloth restaurant, La Jolla Groves offers healthy, full-flavored menu options, which Andersen describes as “New American, but with lighter sauces.” Inspired in part by their faux orchard, Andersen says it’s a natural fit to include citrus fruits in a number of entrées, salads, and desserts, like the restaurant’s Beef Tenderloin Filet and Sautéed Shrimp ($25.95), served with mushroom Marsala sauce and citrus butter, paired with mashed potatoes, heirloom carrots, and asparagus.
Across the country, Dave Trepanier, owner of the Firefly Restaurant in Panama City Beach, Florida, was simply looking for a centerpiece for his dining room—something that would produce the appropriate wow factor. He considered a huge fireplace or an aquarium, but, as he explains, “It’s too hot most of the time for a fireplace, and I don’t want to deal with cleaning and feeding fish. I want to eat fish, not feed them.”
The perfect solution—high impact and low maintenance—proved to be a massive, 16-foot “live oak” steel tree with a canopy measuring 20-by-40 feet, spreading the ambiance in a large circle throughout the center of the upscale dining room.
Trepanier thought the tree would let guests feel like they were dining al fresco—and it worked. “The tables around the tree trunk are our most requested ones.”
Even better, Trepanier says maintenance is kept to a bare minimum. “I thought the leaves would collect a lot of dust, but that hasn’t been the case,” he says. “With a compressor and an air gun, we just blow the dust out once a year.”
With steel trees, restaurateurs also don’t need to be concerned about water, drainage, or pest control, and materials used to make the trees are all eco-friendly and sustainable. The steel is 75 percent recycled.
The trees also pose less challenge for the structure. Gary Hanick, president and co-founder of NatureMaker, explains, “Our steel trees have lower weight-bearing loads than similarly sized live trees, so they require less structural reinforcement and floor support.”