The lines started at 10:50 a.m. Friday, Nov. 8. The newest restaurant in the Ga. 400 corridor wouldn’t officially open for nearly a week, but a group of community members, friends and family members from around the county were allowed a sneak peek.
Olive Garden’s pre-opening event was the talk of the town, with reviews and photos echoing across social media.
Since they opened, the staff has weathered the madness that comes with opening any new restaurant, but especially one in high demand just in time for Black Friday. And at the helm is Kayla LaPerriere.
For LaPerriere, this is nothing new. Kayla has been with Olive Garden for 11 years, most recently running the location in Gainesville. During her career, she has been awarded the Darden Restaurants’ Diamond Club status multiple times. The prestigious recognition is handed out by Olive Garden’s parent company, Darden Restaurants, to the top performing managers across the country.
And for LaPerriere, it all started with a job as a part-time server.
“I fell in love with the company. I fell in love with the people,” LaPerriere said. “Before I knew it, I got into the management track and just worked my way up.”
LaPerriere was the opening service manager at the Gainesville location before becoming the General Manager of the Gainesville location in 2014.
One of Kayla’s favorite parts of her time with Olive Garden is the training program for management and head chefs at the Culinary Institute of Tuscany.
“We go over to Italy with our top chef, Chef Paulo, and we spend a whole week with him,” she said. “We work in the kitchen, we go down to the markets, we pick fresh ingredients, we go back to the kitchen to learn how to cook authentic Italian food.”
But intensive training doesn’t stop with the management team. Every server is put through a rigorous training program where they try every dish and every wine, learn what pairs well together, memorize every ingredient in every dish, and learn to communicate the menu with guests.
“We want each server to be a food and beverage expert so that when a guest says, ‘what is your favorite meal?’ we can honestly say ‘oh my goodness, this is my favorite,’” explained LaPerriere.
So what is her favorite dish?
“That is such a hard question! I would have to say that my favorite dish is — you can’t go wrong with the classics — my favorite dish is probably the chicken parmesan. But I like to mix it up a little bit. Instead of the side of spaghetti, I like a side of fettuccini alfredo. It’s delicious.”
LaPerriere has enjoyed the move from Gainesville to Dawsonville.
“This has been an amazing experience,” LaPerriere said. “I just love the community. Everyone’s so supportive. Everyone from the Chamber of Commerce to the local community. I started getting phone calls months in advance while I was still in Gainesville of guests wanting to make reservations and celebrate their special events with us. It was mind blowing, and just awe inspiring in the sense that everyone was so excited.”
“I think that was the best part,” she added. “Just everyone from the team members to their families to the local community to the local government and leaders in the community just lifting us up and supporting us and saying ‘hey if there’s anything you need, we are here to help,’ and I just thought that was beautiful.”
Olive Garden is open for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.