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This Thonotosassa wedding venue hosted WWE commercials

The wrestling and entertainment company and Mike’s Hard Lemonade teamed up to produce vignettes for WrestleMania 38.
Shinsuke Nakamura and Rick Boogs of the WWE soak in cold lemon baths as the Harder Farmer trains them for a match at WrestleMania during a vignette filmed at the Lemon Orchard Venue on the Lake in Thonotosassa.
Shinsuke Nakamura and Rick Boogs of the WWE soak in cold lemon baths as the Harder Farmer trains them for a match at WrestleMania during a vignette filmed at the Lemon Orchard Venue on the Lake in Thonotosassa. [ Courtesy of WWE ]
Published Apr. 18

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.

Don Balaban, owner of the Lemon Orchard Venue on the Lake, on his property in Thonotosassa. It has become a popular event and wedding space and now it has been discovered by the commercial industry. Mike's Hard Lemonade and the WWE recently teamed up to shoot commercials there.
Don Balaban, owner of the Lemon Orchard Venue on the Lake, on his property in Thonotosassa. It has become a popular event and wedding space and now it has been discovered by the commercial industry. Mike's Hard Lemonade and the WWE recently teamed up to shoot commercials there. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

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.”

Don Balaban, owner of the Lemon Orchard Venue on the Lake, looks out to Lake Thonotosassa from his property.
Don Balaban, owner of the Lemon Orchard Venue on the Lake, looks out to Lake Thonotosassa from his property. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

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.”

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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.”

The Lemon Orchard Venue on the Lake in Thonotosassa.
The Lemon Orchard Venue on the Lake in Thonotosassa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

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.”

Rick Boogs bench presses baskets of lemons as he is spotted by Shinsuke Nakamura and trained by the Harder Farmer as part of a WrestleMania vignette that was filmed at the Lemon Orchard Venue on the Lake in Thonotosassa.
Rick Boogs bench presses baskets of lemons as he is spotted by Shinsuke Nakamura and trained by the Harder Farmer as part of a WrestleMania vignette that was filmed at the Lemon Orchard Venue on the Lake in Thonotosassa. [ Courtesy of WWE ]

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.”

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