June 29, 2013

Ready to serve the community

Surf versus turf basketball will help Gaston Center

Devin Golden

— There’s nothing wrong with a friendly basketball rivalry among sister restaurants.

It’s even better when the community benefits from it.

The LongHorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster restaurants in Dalton are hosting charity basketball games at 10 a.m. on July 9 at the Dalton Parks and Recreation Department’s Mack Gaston Community Center. Along with the contests between the two restaurants, employees are raising money among themselves and accepting outside donations to purchase athletic equipment for the center.

The two restaurants are owned by the Florida-based Darden Restaurant Group, which also owns Olive Garden. The idea started after Red Lobster sponsored an adult recreation league basketball team for the Dalton location and LongHorn responded by forming a team.

“They used to play in some sort of men’s league,” said Eliot Griffin, a service manager and kitchen manager at LongHorn.

“We got to talking one day and thought it would be a great idea for restaurant versus restaurant. It should be a pretty good game. They’re a competitive group and we are, too.”

Griffin said the two sides have raised about $300 through the employees. Outside donations will be accepted but must be made through the restaurant managers.

The restaurants will purchase equipment — an assortment of balls for those who use the center — and present it to the center the day of the game.

Tom Pinson, the community center’s director, said the two restaurants could help with future events at the center.

“I see it as more businesses getting involved in the community and using the community center to do something positive for their employees and the community,” Pinson said.

While the games’ overall goal is to help out those who use the community center, both sides stressed this won’t be a low-quality competition where the participants are apathetic about the final result.

John Smith, an assistant manager and server at Red Lobster, said bluntly, “Both teams want to win.”

“They have a couple (former) high school all-state players,” Smith said of LongHorn’s team. “We have a few that played all four years in high school. Me personally, I just enjoy the sport. But we all have a mutual love for it. We’re all about in our 20s.”

Both teams have practiced and will continue doing so leading up to the event.

“I can’t say we’ve been practicing as much, but we’ve also played each other before,” Smith said. “There will be at least one good, serious game in the time we’re going to play. We have the court for like two and a half hours.”

Chase Welch, a server at LongHorn, said Red Lobster players have been wearing T-shirts when visiting Longhorn to build anticipation. He sees this as a chance to win cross-town, intra-company bragging rights.

“There won’t be a fight, but I definitely think both sides want to show the other one up,” Welch said. “It’s a pride thing, that’s for sure.”