By Dan Macdonald, Contributing Writer
The Tree Steakhouse, a Jacksonville institution since 1969, is rebranding. In May, the Mandarin restaurant will become ChopHouse Thirteen.
Established by Paul Hanson, first in Arlington and later in Mandarin and at the Beaches, the sole remaining location is at 11362 San Jose Blvd., behind a large oak tree in The Gates of Olde Mandarin shopping center.
Joe Foster, managing partner and executive chef, said the change is to reflect the times and respond to customer feedback.
Since his group’s 2015 purchase, Foster said the clientele has become younger and has commented on the restaurant’s dated decor.
“Since we took over, we’ve flipped the demographic,” Foster said. “The ambiance isn’t suitable anymore.”
The restaurant will undergo a makeover along with the name change. It will close April 22 and re-open May 1.
Today it looks like a traditional steakhouse, resembling a hunting lodge or private club with its dark walls, heavy wallpaper and pictures depicting fox hunts.
Reservations made for May for the Tree Steakhouse will be honored as will any gift cards. The Tree Steakhouse website will move readers to the new ChopHouse Thirteen site to ease the transition for longtime customers.
Foster said the renovation, which could cost up to $75,000, will brighten the restaurant with new floors, walls, art and furniture. The bar area will gain new seating and more televisions.
The layout of the restaurant will remain much the same with the open kitchen at the entrance and walk-in wine cellar.
The brick wall that serves as a divider between the kitchen and dining room will remain, but the glass on top of the wall will be changed.
There also will be a new lighted sign in front to help visitors find the restaurant after dark.
The menu will reflect the new name. It will be meat-centric with some seafood and chicken dishes. Prices will remain the same and the staff retained.
Foster doesn’t foresee much being removed from the menu. Rather, there will be some additions.
“We are bringing back escargot. It is something our customers have been asking for,” he said.
For years The Tree Steakhouse served Jacksonville as its upscale steakhouse destination. In recent years established chains like Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Morton’s The Steakhouse, The Capital Grille and III Forks have claimed many of those customers.
Foster said the change to ChopHouse Thirteen is needed to claim Mandarin as his territory.
“They are not considered competition because of their location. We are just trying to add that kind of restaurant to the Mandarin area,” he said.
The new name serves as a reminder that it is located on State Road 13, also known as San Jose Boulevard in Duval County.
When Foster and his group purchased the restaurant, they made changes, but it remained a traditional steakhouse.
The rebranding and remodeling came after six months of contemplation, Foster said. But the decision was easy. Foster said he placed business over sentimentality.
Foster is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, one of the world’s leading culinary schools. He started in the restaurant industry as a teenage busboy at The Tree Steakhouse in Mandarin.
“If you’ll excuse the pun, I’ve enjoyed coming back to my roots at the Tree Steakhouse, but it has to evolve with the current times,” Foster said.