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Olive Garden wait isn't over

Company says its opening in Medford will be in February after remodeling is finished

Medford's Olive Garden restaurant is expected to open in a couple of months.

Darden Restaurants spokesman Steve Coe said Monday Olive Garden will open in February at the former Chevy's Fresh Mex site, 3125 Crater Lake Highway.

He said the restaurant will be staffed by 125 employees, but the company has not announced who will manage the 8,420-square-foot establishment on one of northeast Medford's busiest intersections.

The company wouldn't say how much the makeover project that began in August cost, but contractors who have worked on other Darden remodels estimate it was between &

36;1 million and &

36;2 million.

It's not the most common approach for us, Coe said. It just depends on the location and availability.

He said an Olive Garden management team will be formed from within its existing staff before local hiring begins. A training team assembled from throughout the chain will come to Medford to prepare employees.

There are 502 Olive Garden restaurants, including 25 opened in the past fiscal year that runs June through May. Darden also expects to open 20 to 25 locations in each of the next four years.

The chain didn't open any restaurants for about a year and half to two years before unveiling its present Tuscany design in Sanford, Fla., near its Orlando headquarters in February of 1999, Coe said.

While Darden doesn't go into specifics on its selection process, Coe said population, available real estate and proximity to other company restaurants are factors.

The nearest Olive Gardens are presently in Eugene and Redding, Calif.

We have plenty of locations that aren't near each other, he said.

Publicly traded Darden Restaurants claims to be the largest casual-dining restaurant company in the world.

It operates more than 1,200 Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze and Smokey Bones restaurants in North America and employs more than 122,000 people. The restaurants are company owned and produced &

36;4.4 billion in sales this past fiscal year.

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Jim DeBoer of Quality Plastering checks his work on the facade of what will soon be the Olive Garden restaurant at Delta Waters Road and Crater Lake Highway. The restaurant is expected to open in February. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell