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Olive Garden coming to former Cootie Brown's site

Matthew Lane • Jun 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Olive Garden is coming to Kingsport.

After years of speculation, rumor and a great desire by many people in the Model City, Darden Restaurants is opening its first Olive Garden in Kingsport.

Deputy City Manager Jeff Fleming said plans have been submitted to build a new Olive Garden in East Stone Commons, on the site of the old Cootie Brown’s.

“We are not usually able to get official confirmation from a major national owner/developer due to corporate policy, but rumors have been so rampant in the community, it’s time to recognize that an official step has been taken,” Fleming said.

The next step would be for the issuance of a building permit, which Fleming said should come within the next 10 days. A demolition permit has not been obtained either. However, last year a local contractor did inquire on behalf of Inland (the owners of East Stone Commons) about a demolition permit.

Fleming said the company has not announced when construction would begin and the restaurant would open.

Plans call for a 7,529-square-foot restaurant that will be able to seat 264 people. Fleming said the investment is projected to be $1 million to $1.5 million and create an estimated 165 jobs.

“They’re planning on razing the current building and rebuild within the same footprint with very little impact to the parking configuration,” Fleming said. “While we hate to see Cootie Brown’s closed and demolished, there were circumstances that were beyond our control. As we have learned in the past few years, when one door closes another opens.”

Fleming said the owners of Cootie Brown’s have indicated to the city they would like to reopen their restaurant, though no time frame has been given.

Olive Garden has been one of the most talked about restaurants in Kingsport for years, with rumors popping up from time to time about the Italian restaurant coming to Kingsport. Fleming said he did an informal survey a few years ago, and Olive Garden was near the top of the list of restaurants residents would like to see open. Red Lobster — another Darden-owned restaurant — was also on the list.

“We’re very excited to get the opportunity to get an Olive Garden. In today’s world it’s an amenity that’s expected for a community our size,” Fleming said. “Olive Garden is a strong concept — the strongest concept in the Darden family — and when the numbers they run on a community make sense, they are continuing to plow ahead and build.

“I think it speaks well for Kingsport’s market potential to make this decision, and I hope this concept is highly successful here and there’s a potential for other Darden concepts.”

Olive Garden is the leading restaurant in the Italian dining segment with 653 restaurants, more than 80,000 employees and $3.1 billion in annual sales.

Darden Restaurants Inc., headquartered in Orlando, Fla., is the world’s largest company-owned and -operated restaurant company with almost $6.7 billion in annual sales. The company employs approximately 180,000 employees and owns and operates more than 1,700 restaurants including Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52.

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