The Lowlands Group, a restaurant group composed of Grand Cafes throughout Wisconsin, had just finished opening three restaurants in the span of 18 months when they decided to up their game when it came to their outdoor spaces.
They decided to give David J. Frank Landscape Contracting, Inc., based in Germantown, Wisconsin, a chance to do something different in 2014.
“We’d always done outdoor landscaping but never to this level before,” says Eric Wagner, CEO of the Lowlands Group. “David J. Frank has a phenomenal reputation in Milwaukee, and are known for doing things right, and we were very, very interested in taking our outdoor look to the next level.”
Meridith Wagner, landscape maintenance division sales manager for David J. Frank, who also happens to be Eric’s sister, took on this challenge. The group owns eight restaurants, featuring patios, decks, courtyards and convertible spaces. They each had their own lighting requirements as well.
They wanted to make sure each space had a different look and created a feeling of ‘gezellig,’ the Dutch word for an inviting oasis. They wanted this colorscaping to draw customers in, beautify the streets and help their restaurants stand out.
David J. Frank Landscape Contracting, Inc. earned a Bronze Award in the 2020 Awards of Excellence for this project.
“I take significant pride in it for number one because it’s my brother’s business and being a part of that is very special, but also because the year that we won that award I actually was the one that actually planted all the plants,” Meridith says. “It’s incredibly special for our company.”
She says before David J. Frank passed away, he used to go to Café Hollander every Friday night in the summertime and would enjoy the work his company did and then go across the street and catch a movie.
“It was incredibly important to David himself, not just our company as a whole but for David as a person, he used to love it and he used to call me all the time and tell me how gorgeous that it looked,” Meridith says.
The firm faced a number of challenges including dealing with Wisconsin’s short outdoor season of four months, five if October is nice. To make the most of the season, David J. Frank takes the planter inserts to the grower where they can be cared for and when the plants are ready the inserts are delivered to each of the restaurants.
The total install of over 1,600 plants and nearly 60 planters have to be done at all eight cafes, one week prior to Memorial Day each year. To avoid disturbing customers, crews start hours earlier than normal to maneuver soil, plants and water through the restaurants to get them ready before they open.
“Our season is so short in Milwaukee,” Eric says. “It’s a massive logistics maneuver every spring setting everything up. We’re growing stuff early in the season to get our stuff up early and we definitely wouldn’t go through all of this effort if it didn’t enhance our patios a lot,”
The restaurants with rooftop gardens presented a tough growing environment because of the heat and constant attention must be provided to keep them healthy. Three crew members are responsible for watering the plants at the eight locations and the planters must be watered on a cycle to prevent dripping on customers.
David J. Frank also worked to determine which tropical plants could be incorporated to complement the Wisconsin annuals. They use plants such as elephant ears, banana plants, crotons, bougainvillea, schefflera and many different varieties of philodendron.
“It’s so unique,” Eric says. “It’s not just a mountain of flowers. It feels so coordinated but not staged or choreographed. It’s just been a very special experience for me to be able to do this not only with my company but also with my sister.”
Interested in participating in the Awards of Excellence? Submit your entries by Aug. 9, 2021.