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Released February 15, 2005



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 Southern Mississippi.

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.


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April 5, 2005 1:48 PM