SOUTHINGTON — For the past decade, the holiday season at Cava Restaurant has transported diners to a different world.
The experience starts when you walk in, with lights and wreaths lighting up the foyer.
“When (diners) open the front door, we want them to say ‘wow,’” Cava manager Tony Papahristou said. “That’s why we start with the foyer — we start with a bang.
“We want to make sure there isn’t a spot in the restaurant that they’re coming and not seeing decorations,” he added.
This is Cava’s tenth year decorating for the holidays. This year’s theme includes an ice dining room, Beauty and the Beast, the Cave of Wonders from “Aladdin,” and a medieval ballroom.
Each room has it’s own ornate features— the ice room has a wall of more than 40 silver decorated wreaths, the Beauty and the Beast room has special chandeliers and a giant mirror and characters from the movie, and the medieval room has real swords hanging in the ceiling wreaths.
Papahristou designs the rooms starting in August. Everything is ordered in September so he and some of the Cava staff can start decorating mid-October.
One thing that does stay the same each year is the tree outside the front of the restaurant, which is decorated with 15,000 lights.
The restaurant spends about $15,000 on the decorations each year and recycles as much as it can from years before. Papahristou estimates the business has probably accumulated about $100,000 worth of holiday decorations.
Papahristou said they try to make it bigger and better each holiday season. This year, the restaurant has about 35,000 more lights, for a total of about 85,000 lights. It has also started doing small remodels to the rooms to fit the themes, such as adding special chandeliers and a mirror in the Beauty and the Beast themed room.
Waterbury resident Laura Samolis said she recently brought a friend, whose sister and best friend had both died in the last month, to lunch at the restaurant. The friend had wanted nothing to do with Christmas this year, but after that lunch decided she wanted to put up a Christmas tree.
“She left (Cava) smiling and she hasn’t smiled in two months,” Samolis said. “That’s what this place did for her. It really brought her Christmas spirit.”
Somalis was dining with family members and a friend on Thursday, two of whom had driven about an hour.
“You can’t feel down or sad or anything like that here, it’s just wonderful,” said Sandra Samolis, who had come from Uncasville.
Since reservations for the holiday season usually start filling up in September, Cava leaves the decorations up at least until the end of January so more people get a chance to see them.
“We want (diners) to walk away and tell all their friends and their family about what a magical place they went to for dinner,” Papahristou said.