THONOTOSASSA ― Don Balaban has been a professional wrestling fan for decades.
This is not a topic he broaches with brides at his Lemon Orchard Venue on the Lake, a 23-acre Thonotosassa citrus farm and event venue.
But he has recently learned which of those brides are fans.
The WWE and Mike’s Hard Lemonade teamed up for two days in March to film a series of vignettes on Balaban’s property.
The videos were part of WWE’s WrestleMania 38 on April 2 and 3.
“I start getting calls from brides who were watching,” said Balaban, 64.
In the three vignettes, which doubled as commercials for the alcoholic beverage, wrestlers Rick Boogs and Shinsuke Nakamura prepare for their WrestleMania match by hiring Mike’s Harder Lemonade’s Harder Farmer as their trainer.
“The videos are great,” Balaban said. “They’re so funny and were even funnier to watch in person.”
The Harder Farmer puts the wrestlers through a series of ridiculous training exercises, ranging from bench pressing baskets of lemons to deflecting the fruit shot from a potato gun.
“No, stop the montage,” Boogs says in a vignette after the Harder Farmer orders the wrestlers to squeeze lemon juice into their eyes. “That’s just irresponsible.”
Balaban said the production learned about his farm on Lake Thonotosassa via the Hillsborough County film commission.
“Where else are you going to find a property like this?” Balaban said. “I have acres of trees, 903 feet of shoreline, I’m only 25 minutes from the airport, I have an office, bathrooms, an indoor facility, and we’re secure, private and away from the public.”
The property also has a dock and a century-old wooden cart that was once parked at the original Chicago Union Station.
“Don Balaban has created a beautiful and unique property that’s perfect for attracting high-end commercials and productions,” Hillsborough film commissioner Tyler Martinolich said. “We hope this leads to other property owners throughout Hillsborough opening their doors to potential film shoots in the future.”
Planning your weekend?
Subscribe to our free Top 5 things to do newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Balaban’s farm was missing just one thing that the production needed.
“I didn’t have any lemons on my trees,” Balaban said with a laugh. “My lemons were done for the season. So they spent time putting fake ones on my trees.”
Balaban, a retired Hillsborough deputy, purchased the property around 20 years ago. It’s one of four farms he owns in Hillsborough.
“I want to keep agriculture alive,” he said. “And I am trying to keep housing developments out. I know I can’t stop growth, but I can stop them from taking all the farms.”
He initially opened his lemon orchard to inner city kids.
“We would make bamboo poles and teach them how to fish,” Balaban said. “I’d have my pond stocked with fish, we’d cook hot dogs and marshmallows and watch Christian films. We then started hosting fundraisers. Then people wanted to have parties here. Then came weddings. Now, we are doing second-generation weddings.”
The WWE vignettes were the highest-profile productions to use his property, Balaban said, but not the first.
And he hopes it is not the last.
“I’d like to see a big movie come here,” Balaban said. “And, before I’m dead, I’d love to see Hallmark make something here. You should see this place when we have a wedding with carriages. We put Disney World to shame.”