Grove lays roots in an iconic spot on Lakewood Ranch Main Street.
Two days before Grove’s opening, Executive Chef Greg Campbell realized there was custom art missing from the wall.
“I set up a table in the middle of the dining room and got some wood glue,” says Campbell, who had been saving wine corks over the years. “I sketched a quick design on the frame and started gluing.”
An hour in, Campbell realized although he was a bit shy of corks, he’d gained an audience.
“Within a half-hour, two of the new servers, who had just completed training, were bringing in trash bags full of corks from their houses.”
The servers grabbed the glue and four hours later the piece was complete.
The 1,500-cork installation hangs beside the new service bar — a visual testament to the teamwork, drive (and wine consumption) required to transform the former Polo Bar and Grill into Grove in four months.
“It’s all been a team effort, everything we have done from the onset of the project,” says Campbell.
During the renovation, the Grove team kept the design details of the multimillion-dollar renovation hush-hush. But when Grove opened Dec. 10, it revealed no less than a jaw-dropping makeover.
“The old space was restrictive, as far as walls were concerned,” says Campbell. “We wanted enough elements to keep attention inside but still have it be open and full of light.”
Campbell, who acted as the general contractor, spared no expense on the custom renovations, choosing durable, high-quality materials and implementing upgrades to everything from gas lines to baseboards (which, by the way, are stainless steel).
“We are going to be here for 30 years and need it to last,” says Campbell.
The Grove kitchen is set up for maximum efficiency, inspired by the cookline design at the company’s flagship restaurant, Pier 22, in Bradenton. The line can hold up to 11 people, which means it can service a lot of people in both the restaurant and during events in the adjoining ballroom.
In the front of the house, removing walls improved the flow of traffic and now exposes an expanded bar area featuring a large bar top that seats 32 — with plenty of high tops to accommodate the busiest of happy hours.
“The bar area was designed to be a completely open space to avoid that awkward moment at the hostess stand,” says Campbell. “You walk right in and grab a stool.”
Two custom-made see-through wine cabinets separate the main dining area from one of three private dining spaces and hold up to 800 bottles of wine. To achieve a modern, yet comfortable feel, Grove also features custom leather booths, white tufted walls and wood grain wainscoting.
Campbell says it was Lakewood Ranch history that inspired Grove’s name and décor, which took the natural wood melody throughout.
“First pick a location, then create the restaurant,” says Campbell. “We discovered it wasn’t just orange groves and cattle here. It was also timber groves.”
In the beginning stages of design and construction, Campbell was out looking for inspiration when he came across a 10-foot-long white cedar stump, downed in Holmes Beach during Hurricane Irma. He had it cut into nine slabs and used it for unique elements such as a high-top bar table and floor-to-ceiling partitions between booths.
The piece de resistance is the expanded 2,500-square-foot all-weather patio. The patio, which has been a popular spot since opening, features a fire-pit table, automated screens and a custom louver roof, which can be opened and closed according to outdoor conditions and, of course, by customer request.
“We wanted a patio and bar to feel inviting,” says Austin Harlow, general manager of Grove, “for it to be a place to see and be seen.”
Harlow, who had a large part in the design of the bar and patio area, came to Grove from Pier 22 but has quickly immersed himself in the needs of his Lakewood Ranch customers, including what they like to drink. Fitting, since Harlow happens to be a sommelier and a cicerone (beer master). He was the main force behind the bar and craft cocktail menu that leaves little to be desired. That said, desire away, because if there’s something they don’t offer in the way of food or drink, Harlow and Campbell will not hesitate to make it (or get it) for you. They know customer feedback is paramount to success.
“The one thing I have always hung my hat on is you have to constantly learn and constantly evolve,” says Campbell.
A beautiful space to congregate is not all Grove plans to offer Lakewood Ranch. The development of the seven-page menu was a collaboration to offer regional American cuisine Campbell hopes will provide something for everyone.
“We are happy to be in the community and happy to be feeding people and, hopefully, make them happy,” says Campbell. “We just want to be there for people’s most important times of their lives.”