adidas samba suede Kapok Tree restaurant memorabilia wanted
Once upon a simpler time, there was a magical place that stood alone deep in Davie’s wild western woods.
Huge Grecian columns marked its entrance. Peacocks roamed the gardens surrounding a cluster of extravagant themed rooms, a tropical veranda just down the hall from a Middle Eastern bazaar.
The Kapok Tree was more than just a restaurant and catering hall during its glory days four decades ago. It was THE place where memories were made, say the many who drove over the deserted, two lane country roads to celebrate their weddings, graduations, first dates and anniversaries.
“It felt like you were in your own world. There were swans on the premises, and it was so serene,” said Penny Aldahonda, a Pembroke Pines retiree. She was married in a gazebo at The Kapok Tree in 1983, “and it was better than any place I could have imagined,” she said, even though she ruined her white silk shoes when the photographer posed her too close to the lake.
Today, that lake and the paths where partygoers wandered with their drinks through the tropical hammock are part of Long Key Natural Area and Nature Center in Davie, which is country no more. Six lanes of Flamingo Road traffic barrel close to Long Key’s gates, and the suburbs press in on its flanks.
The fountain and a few towering columns scattered about the Broward County park’s 65 acres are the most visible reminders of the once romantic Kapok Tree.
In its honor, the recently formed Friends of Long Key (FOLK) nonprofit organization is paying tribute to the iconic restaurant and its beautiful gardens that have returned to their wild roots.
FOLK, a group of volunteers that does projects and raises funds for Long Key, will be showcasing The Kapok Tree at its fundraising gala on Nov. 6 at the nature center. And they are looking for all the trivia and memorabilia they can get.
Do you have one of those hurricane style souvenir glasses that held the killer Kapok Tree punch? A story about how your quinceanera dress got wet when the photographer posed you next to a fountain? A technicolor postcard from the restaurant’s gift shop?
“We’d love to hear from people if they had memories being here at The Kapok Tree, any souvenirs or photos they might have,” said gala chairman and FOLK treasurer Ann Haeflinger.
The event organizers want to set up a display at The Kapok Tree auction and gala, and perhaps create a permanent exhibit at the nature center.
Kelli Whitney, a naturalist with the Broward County Parks and Recreation Division, already has scored a few Kapok Tree punch glasses at thrift stores and on eBay. She said that sometimes, when she leads a night walk at Long Key, she’ll ask how many of her hikers once came here to eat the famous Kapok hush puppies and fried chicken.
“It’s rare when no hands go up,” said Whitney. “Coming to The Kapok Tree was an event. You didn’t just go there to grab a beer after work.”
If anyone could spice up The Kapok Tree gala’s storybook, it would be Aaron Fodiman. A serial entrepreneur, he purchased an entire restaurant chain that included three Kapok Trees in Florida (the other two on the west coast) from its original owners, the Baumgardner family, in 1983.
One bit of trivia? The actual kapok trees at the restaurants actually were Indian bombax ceiba trees, Fodiman said. There also is supposedly an Indian burial mound on the Davie property, “but we never went near it,
” he said.
Fodiman, who today is the owner of Tampa Bay magazine and lives in Clearwater, said he originally bought the properties as real estate investments, as they were on large pieces of land in developing areas.
But he was intrigued by the Disney World like feel of the restaurants, filled with exotic statues and decorations, so he opted to be a restaurant owner. But by 1988, The Kapok Tree closed, and the county bought the property in 1990. The park opened in 2008.
The menu was simple, Fodiman said: a few entrees, bolstered by unlimited hush puppies, potatoes and vegetables. Oh, and the famous rum punch? “It wasn’t always rum,” Fodiman said. “If we got a good buy on gin, we used that. But it always was colorful, sweet and good to drink.”
Keeping the food coming and the drinks flowing provided jobs for plenty of local teenagers, said Valerie Lockwood Moran, 56, who grew up in Davie and still lives a short walk from Long Key today.
Lockwood had a friend in college who was a bartender at The Kapok Tree, “and she loved it,” Lockwood said. “They were 18 year old kids in charge and it was a big party. And so many cute guys.”
It may be the brides, however, who have the most vivid Kapok Tree memories.
The first time Beverly Merz went to the The Kapok Tree, “I thought, if I ever get married, I am getting married here,” she said. Flash forward two years to 1983 and she had the man, the gazebo and the reception in the Bird Room.
“It was bright and cheerful and beautiful,” said Merz, of Delray Beach. “We should cherish what we experience. Did it keep us together, our wedding? Maybe.”
Ten years later, she and her husband, Stephen Merz, wanted to show their young son where they were married. But The Kapok Tree was gone.
“We were so disappointed,
” Merz said. Until she recently learned that Long Key Nature Center has an event hall where a wedding could be held on almost the exact same spot as The Kapok Tree.