By Wendy White Kniffen
Photography by Tammy Harrow, Luna Blu Photography
Celebrating 35 years in business and renowned for award-winning service and cuisine, The Raintree is considered one of St. Augustine’s venerable restaurants. It is the site of innumerable proposals for marriage, wedding rehearsal dinners and weddings, not to mention other important life-changing events.
Love stories are a big part of the equation in the history of The Raintree. Tristan and Alex MacDonald made a big leap of faith when they, as a couple with two teenaged children, decided they would change their lives in a big way. Tristan, a successful retailer in Penzance, England in the 1970s, saw the writing on the wall as economic conditions changed and wanted more opportunity for his family. They sold nearly everything they owned (their business, their home, car, furnishings, and more) and bought a 45-foot ocean-going sailboat to make the journey of a lifetime across the Atlantic.
“It was a risk we couldn’t afford not to take,” says Tristan. “As they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And we certainly gained some amazing adventures,” says Tristan, who published a memoir titled Into My Fourth Quarter: Going for Overtime.
Fast forward 35 years and daughter Lorna continues as the owner-operator of The Raintree along with her husband, Chris Cantabene.
Lorna and her brother Gaere were an integral part of founding the property at 102 San Marco Avenue once the family arrived in St. Augustine. The family worked as a team rehabilitating the Victorian-era building. Both Lorna and Gaere worked in the restaurant—Lorna as a bartender, Gaere as the chef.
Gaere and his wife Carolyn took the helm for 7 years in the 1990s when Tristan and Alex wanted to retire and spend more time traveling. When Gaere decided to pursue a career as a building contractor, they sold their interest back to Tristan, Alex, and Lorna. At that point, Lorna took over the role of managing day-to-day operations.
Chris Cantabene, who had worked for many years as Raintree’s general manager, increasingly became an indispensable part of the team. As he and Lorna discovered they worked well together, romance blossomed as well. The couple married on October 1, 2006 and have happily continued the tradition of a husband-and-wife team owning and operating The Raintree Restaurant.
Recipient of Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence and Florida Trend’s 10 Best in Florida Golden Spoon, Raintree is also listed in Zagat Survey of Outstanding Restaurants. Menu highlights still include the classics that made the restaurant famous—hand-cut steaks, cold water lobster tails, Beef Wellington, and an all-time favorite, Raintree’s legendary Brandy Peppersteak.
As each husband-and-wife team has at Raintree, Lorna and Chris brought their own personal stamp to the menu and the restaurant itself. The menu shifted to what they call Intercontinental Cuisine, a blend of Mediterranean, American, and Asian cuisine. “From Canadian lobster to the Argentinean chorizo we use in our exquisite paella, we use the best ingredients in inventive ways,” Lorna explains.
Lorna and Chris—who is also a licensed building contractor—have continually updated interiors and exteriors. In 2010, they unveiled a 60-seat courtyard for outdoor dining featuring live music on weekends. In 2011, they launched Sunday Brunch for the first time ever at The Raintree, which proved to be an instant success.
The duo also embraced partnering with its neighbor, Limelight Theatre, and other theatre groups in town to present dinner theatre presentations. Recipient of the Salvation Army’s 2017 Gus Craig Award for outstanding community service, Lorna serves on the boards of numerous community organizations, including EPIC Behavioral Healthcare, the St. Augustine Independent Restaurant Association and Limelight Theatre, St. Augustine’s preeminent community theatre that is strolling distance from Raintree.
“Chris and I agree it is important to give back to the community that embraced us,” Lorna explains. “We both raised our children in St. Augustine and have a thriving business. As owners of Raintree, we feel privileged to play a part in so many people’s lives.”
Raintree serves dinner from 5 p.m. daily and Sunday Brunch from 11 a.m. Happy Hour in the Bar all evening Sunday through Friday. Reservations are suggested.
“OUR COURTYARD DINING FEATURING LIVE ENTERTAINMENT ON WEEKENDS IS NOW A MAJOR ATTRACTION.”
—OWNER LORNA MACDONALD
The Raintree Restaurant
102 San Marco Avenue
Uptown San Marco