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Outback restaurants ready to expand nationally charity food-donation program tested in Bradenton

BRADENTON

Known for its juicy steaks and bloomin' onions, Outback Steakhouse restaurants soon will be known for its desire to give back.

About three months ago, the national restaurant chain, headquartered in Tampa, started testing a program that benefits the Salvation Army's community meals program in Bradenton by donating from its kitchens food that didn't make it to the table for the night's dinner service.

The company is now ready to roll out the program nationally.

According to Christine Smith, Salvation Army Director of development and community relations, Outback, 4402 Cortez Road, chose the Salvation Army, 2104 14th St. W., for the pilot program.

"We work with a third-party company called Food Donation Connection, which connects local nonprofits with restaurants, to receive leftover food and Outback has not been connected to this program before now," Smith said. "They have been testing to see how well the program works and the store on Cortez Road toured the facility and saw the number of people we serve every evening and decided to test here."

Smith said the Salvation Army began picking up the restaurant's food three months ago and since then, the Outback at 4510 State Road 64 E. also has joined in the effort.

"It's going wonderfully well," said Smith. "We have been able to improve the quality of what we are serving because of this partnership. Because of rising food costs, we've had to use a lot of things, like instant potatoes, but with the wonderful donations we get, we can actually use fresh potatoes, meat and produce and clients can tell the difference."

The Salvation Army on 14th Street feeds about 250 people a day at its community dinner and receives a variety of food items, including meat already cooked. All food goes through a rigorous inspection process both at the restaurant and again at the facility before it is served, Smith said.

But don't get the impression that those relying on the Salvation Army are opening up Styrofoam containers and eating leftovers.

"The staff are always happy and excited to see what's on the

truck that day and are thinking of new ways to use what we get," said Smith. "Our kitchen manager is a former restaurant owner and loves to make things from scratch, so what he does is takes the food we get and uses them as ingredients to make fresh sauces and things like that. It's funny how a small change can increase and change the mood of the atmosphere. It's been an exciting time for us and our clients."

While averaging about 250 people a day at the community dinner, Smith said she's noticed the numbers climbed to about 275 in recent days, as word spreads.

"I can't say for sure if that's because of the Outback flavors we are serving now, but I'd certainly like to think so," she said.

Outback Steakhouse restaurant corporate personnel are going to produce a training video at the local Salvation Army about how to begin implementing the program nationwide, which Smith said will begin as soon as possible.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.

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