Olive Garden: The Grand Opening

Gabriella Clark, Reporter

Spaghetti, breadsticks, and salad. Family and friends gathered around the table under warm lights and surrounded by sweet aromas. Who could say no to that?

Olive Garden is famous for its Italian cuisine and unlimited salad and breadsticks to go with it. Since 1982, Olive Garden has provided hot and tasty food to people across the world, from Times Square to Vancouver, to Lima. However, with no location on the islands, Hawaii residents have long missed out on the chance to enjoy what the restaurant had to offer.

Finally, on October 29, 2020, Olive Garden had its grand opening in Hawaii at Ala Moana Center in Honolulu. For the first time, local residents would be able to experience the food and atmosphere of Olive Garden, without the need to leave the island.

“I ate there the weekend after the opening date,” Sophia Clark, a James Campbell High School (JCHS) junior said. “I waited in line for about two hours.”

This grand opening created a buzz among locals at Ala Moana Center. People who had never eaten at an Olive Garden before and those who’ve enjoyed the food on the continental U.S. alike were scrambling to get a table at the restaurant. Clark belonged to the latter group.

“I’ve eaten at one in South Texas and once at the one in Times Square in New York City,” Clark said. With her having eaten at other locations, Clark had expectations. “I’ve enjoyed all my meals at the Olive Gardens on the mainland.”

Even though the newly opened restaurant was busy and bustling, Clark found comfort in the kind waitstaff.

“I ordered the chicken parmesan with angel hair. It’s a rather safe dish and one of my favorite things to order at Italian restaurants. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to somebody who doesn’t know what else to get. I feel like my waiter did his best to check in on our table and make sure we had everything we needed.”

Rosa Bell, a Spanish teacher at JCHS, also ate at the brand new restaurant. “I ate [at] Olive Garden last Nov. 7th. I ordered shrimp scampi and it was delicious. Basically, that’s my favorite dish besides the salad and bread,” Bell said.

Nevertheless, the excitement of eating at the first Olive Garden restaurant in Hawaii eventually began to wear down. Emerson Piedad, a JCHS freshman, noted that while the experience was exciting, frantic energy and salty food dampened his visit to the restaurant.

“The breadsticks were pretty salty to the point, almost to the point where I was kind of disappointed because the bread itself was super good, but the topping was just too hard to bear. I hope after they’ve been open for a little longer, their service will improve as the opening crowds slowly shrink. I think it’s always more enjoyable to eat at a [calmer] restaurant rather than one that’s extremely busy. The staff [isn’t] as frantic and the atmosphere just feels nicer.”

“Maybe because it was here in Hawaii, but it didn’t feel as exciting to eat at Olive Garden compared to when I eat at the restaurant on the mainland. When the restaurant is exclusive to the mainland, it becomes more special and more of a treat,” Clark said. “For the experience and to say that I’ve been to the first Olive Garden in Hawaii [it was worth the two-hour wait]. Other than that, I would have much rather preferred to have eaten somewhere else quicker. Most of the dishes on the menu you can get at other Italian restaurants. However, the wait was worth it for the salad!”

The new Olive Garden location at Ala Moana Center had its ups and its downs, Clark, Piedad, and Bell agree. However, the experience of eating there trumped any and all negatives.

“Despite over-salted food and tremendous wait time, eating at the Olive Garden was a wonderful experience that I’m thankful I was able to experience with my family,” Piedad said. “I hope to be back soon– maybe not until after the line shortens!”