Chef T’s Closed as Owner Takes an Overdue Sabbatical

Chef T’s Garden Grill has recently closed for business after a long run. It’s not entirely out of the question that the popular fine-dining restaurant in a 1920s-era yellow house has a future as Chef T’s again. “But for now I’m hanging up my chef’s jacket,” Terry Doner said.

The restaurant managed to thrive and survive for more than 11 years since Doner bought the now-94-year-old, two-story house.  

Chef T’s served upscale American and international foods at 1925 E. Gary Road. The neighborhood  isn’t among Lakeland’s prime or trendy, making success a steeper hill to climb.

“I poured my heart and soul into that restaurant,” Doner said. “But it’s a tough business.” 

Chef T’s sat almost 50 people. It featured fine wooden shelves and counters, hardwood floors, a fireplace and a 14-foot ceiling.

Doner, 61, is spending some time in New England and said he plans to continue to live in Lakeland.

Doner said “after a sabbatical” he might open another restaurant. If he were to do it, he said, it would most probably be in Lakeland.

Another Chef T’s at the same location? “It isn’t out of the question.”

Doner said one of the biggest hurdles for an independent restaurateur in Central Florida, Lakeland or Polk County is that people don’t support  them.

“Almost everything you see in Polk County is a chain.” Donner said. “People just don’t support local businesses.”

He said he had gotten to a point where he couldn’t put his whole heart into his work and said time off might help.

Donner’s favorite appetizer was escargot and favorite dish was Chicken San Petronio.

He had plenty of loyal customers over the years.

“The place was charming and the food was fabulous,” Kitty Folsom said. She liked beef tenderloin and chicken marsala.

Rosemary Akey sometimes dined at Chef T’s three times per week. And she usually ordered “the heavenly scallops.” 

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