By Scott Morrison
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — Red Lobster chef Stewart Harrington probably never dreamed he would see himself on television, being broadcast to millions of homes around the country. But he has seen it — twice, and so have millions of others.
“I had never done any acting before this,” Harrington said. “I think every kid wants to be an action star at one time. I liked it a lot. It would definitely be something I would pursue if I had the chance.”
Harrington, 25, of Anderson, was chosen by Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Red Lobster, to star in a Red Lobster commercial that began airing on Memorial Day. It can be seen on YouTube.
“It still hasn’t hit me all the way yet,” Harrington said. “It is sort of an odd feeling to know so many people see you.” And people who have seen him have let Harrington know.
Harrington, son of Todd and Jana Harrington, said when the commercial was airing during the NBA playoffs, his cellphone and Facebook page lit up with people reaching out to him – some he had not heard from since childhood.
Customers at the restaurant have asked to speak with him more often, too. One of the more unusual experiences occurred when a couple from West Virginia asked to take a picture with Harrington in the middle of his shift.
“I was at work and hot and sweaty and never dreamed of being recognized for being on television,” Harrington said.
Along with being a chef, Harrington doubles as a culinary professional whose job it is to enter the dining area and speak with customers about their meals. Because of the commercial, Harrington’s general manager, Wendell Stephens, has tried to maximize that face time.
“Stew is a great crew member,” Stephens said. “He has got a nice look and is a great representative for the restaurant.”
Stephens was the person who really gave Harrington the opportunity to be in the commercial. Darden’s advertising and marketing contacted Stephens and other general managers across the country to choose two or three employees from their restaurants for the commercial.
Stephens chose Harrington, Harrington’s girlfriend, and Harrington’s best friend to have Skype auditions for the part. Harrington was chosen to advance from that stage and was flown to Los Angeles for a second round of auditions. “It was kind of good luck and my manager putting in a good word for me,” Harrington said. “My girlfriend and best friend were both really happy for me. There was no worst-case scenario.”
After the second round of auditions, Harrington was flown to New York City where the commercial was shot in a day at Silvercup Studios, home of numerous hit shows including “30 Rock” and “Person of Interest.”
Both Harrington and Stephens agree that the commercial was a special opportunity for a local resident.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for one of our homegrown boys to have the opportunity to go and get wined and dined and have that corporate experience shooting a commercial,” Stephens said.
Stephens believes that the commercial and Harrington’s work ethic will provide a bright future for the chef. “He has all the potential to become a great leader for Darden,” Stephens said.