Kenneth Billingslea loves just about everything about Olive Garden — after all, he celebrated his 33rd anniversary with the brand earlier this month — but he has a special affection for Darden’s Harvest program.
Since the program to “harvest” surplus fresh, wholesome food not served to guests began in 2003, Kenneth has played a key role at his restaurant in Winter Park, FL. Every day, he and other team members prepare food for safe donation by chilling it, weighing and labeling it, and freezing it. A truck from Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida in Orlando picks up the frozen pasta, bread, vegetables, soups, sauces, protein and desserts once a week.
The process is repeated daily at each of our more than 1,700 restaurants in the United States, and the food is served at food banks and shelters in each community.
“I see people who are hungry, and I don’t want food go to waste,” Kenneth said. “People need it, especially when it’s from Olive Garden. We have the best food in the world! We help a lot of people, and that’s important.”
“Kenny exemplifies the phrase give back,” said General Manager Jamie Melanson. “He has touched so many lives at Olive Garden during his 30-plus years of training others and supporting a cause we hold dear to our hearts.”
Darden has donated more than 115 million pounds of food, which provided more than 95 million meals, through Harvest. Kenneth’s restaurant alone donated 1,216 pounds in fiscal 2019, with a total of 10,174 pounds since 2003. In addition, the Darden Foundation once again gave $2 million this year to Feeding America.
In his long career with Olive Garden, Kenneth has worked as a dishwasher, line cook and certified trainer helping to open new restaurants. For the last 19 years, he has prepared the sauces, soups and salads at the Winter Park location.
“I’m the Sauce Guy,” he said. “At every Olive Garden I have worked, I was given the same schedule — the one I wanted. I love this company, and I love coming to work and being around positive people, good people with good hearts.”
He said he’s proud to work for a restaurant company that doesn’t waste food and helps to feed the hungry. His passion transcends to his personal life. He and his wife, Cora, prepare food at their home and hand it out to the homeless every Saturday.
Kenneth, who has three children and five grandchildren, said he plans to retire from Olive Garden in two years, but he won’t stop feeding people. He and Cora hope to start a soul food restaurant in Groveland.