HATTIESBURG – The
Darden Restaurants Foundation of Orlando, Fla., today announced
it is awarding a $40,000 grant to the Fern Hesson Charcoal Room,
a student-run restaurant and food laboratory at The University of
The funds will be used to purchase a computerized
point-of-sale system, new food preparation equipment and make improvements
to the dining facility, where approximately 100 restaurant management
and nutrition and dietetics students get hands-on food service experience
in their undergraduate degree preparation each academic year.
"This grant will help provide much-needed upgrades
for our whole academic operation," said instructor Jim Taylor.
"It is important that we educate and equip students with experiences
that parallel marketplace realities. This funding will give us a
huge boost in our ability to provide real-life experiences."
Taylor and fellow instructor Tanya Ruetzler teach classes and supervise
the day-to-day operations of the Charcoal Room.
"The restaurant industry is growing rapidly and
provides great career opportunities," said Clarence Otis, Darden
Restaurants CEO. "What an honor it is to help give our industry's
future leaders the tools they need to be successful in their careers."
Darden Restaurants routinely hires Southern Miss graduates
and provides internship opportunities for students. Darden Restaurants
owns and operates all Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze,
and Smokey Bones Barbeque & Grill restaurants. The company employs
143,000 people who work in more than 1,300 restaurants throughout
North America. Darden records $5 billion in sales annually and is
the world's largest casual dining restaurant company.
"The University of Southern Mississippi has developed
a great relationship with Darden Restaurants and their campus recruiting
efforts here," said Rusty Anderson, director of Career Services.
"They've been successful in recruiting (Southern Miss) students
and are impressed with the quality of preparation of students in
our Tourism Management program."
Students are responsible for almost every aspect of
operations at the Charcoal Room, including cooking, cleaning, advertising
and waiting tables. The restaurant is located in Vann Hall on the
Southern Miss campus in Hattiesburg.
Operating under the auspices of the College
of Business, the Charcoal Room is open to the public Tuesday through
Thursday from 11:30 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. The menu changes weekly and
always features an entrée, pasta, pizza or wrap and salad
along with dessert and beverages.