ORANGE PARK – Lawrence Johnson wasn’t concerned last Monday when the line for Military Appreciation Night stretched to the back of the Golden Corral parking lot and doubled back to the front …
ORANGE PARK – Lawrence Johnson wasn’t concerned last Monday when the line for Military Appreciation Night stretched to the back of the Golden Corral parking lot and doubled back to the front door.
He had more than enough steak grilling. And Meatloaf. Mashed potatoes. Ham. Turkey. Tacos. And, of course, the famous freshly baked yeast rolls.
The buffet chain has been feeding veterans to celebrate Veterans Day for the past 22 years. But for Lawrence, the franchise owner of the Orange Park restaurant, the annual event has a deeper meaning.
“It was beautiful,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for anything better. We work with our DAV (Disabled American Veterans Bradley S. Crose Chapter 38) for a lot of things. They also help us with our Camp Corral to send kids to camp. They have been great partners.”
The local DAV chapter meets regularly at Golden Corral.
Although the free offer didn’t start until 5 p.m., hundreds were already in line an hour early. It got them through the doors quicker and allowed them to share stories of their service.
“To me, it’s the fellowship and the respect you gain from the community,” said retired Maj. Joe Shaw. “It gives us the opportunity to show those who didn’t serve we’re still here.”
“The older veterans get to talk and hear the stories. It’s the camaraderie for me,” YNC Cedric Harris said.
“We’re still here. We served our time,” said retired Sgt. Major Brian Coleman. “We appreciate them (Golden Corral) recognizing us for our service. I was born and raised here. I did 34 years, and I came back home.”
After hosting 712 veterans a year ago, Johnson said his restaurant served 826 veterans. He was ready with plenty of staff, cooks, food and volunteers from the Orange Park High Navy JROTC, who cleaned the serving areas. When the first veteran hit the line, he had a mound of steaks already cooked on the grill.
“When we opened the doors, the steaks went quickly,” Johnson said. “The line went to the back of the restaurant. But we were ready. It was our honor to feed every one of them.
“We have a beautiful time. A lot of the co-workers have been here for 30 years at this location, so they already knew what to expect. It was easy to get them in. We were properly staffed to handle that many people. It was a wonderful show. I really appreciate them. I’m sure they appreciated it, too.”