Kenneth Hall, general manager of the new Olive Garden said the restaurant was prepared to feed “everyone in Albany, if need be.” The long-awaited Olive Garden on Dawson Road opened Monday to Throngs of anxious patrons accustomed to driving 50 miles or more to one of their favorite restaurants.
ALBANY, Ga. -- Hen's teeth were easier to find than parking spaces Monday, with the grassy lot behind the Olive Garden on Dawson Road filling with trucks that could make the curb. Patrons overflowed the lobby then congregated outside the restaurant's double doors.
It had been a long time coming and customers were content with a 20-minute lunch wait.
Michelle Shaw and her friend Pam Brown had the day off from Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, and in the middle of their pedicures remembered the grand opening and thought "Why not?"
"We're glad to see it in Albany," Shaw said. "There's nothing like it in this area. "
"We've actually driven together to Macon and Columbus just so we could go to an Olive Garden," Brown said.
The pair agreed there was a combination of attractions pulling them time and time again to the famous restaurant: Attractions like the food, the service and the practical knowledge of the service staff.
"They know just what to recommend, whether it's a pasta dish or the right wine to go with it," Brown said.
Brown and Shaw enjoyed the chicken parmesan and the fried ravioli.
"Lunch was delicious," said Cathy Taliaferro, rewarded for her wait and for braving the rush. "Absolutely delicious. A friend and I usually go when we're out of town, but now we have one here and it's great. In Albany we have Mikata, Longhorn and now we have Olive Garden."
Taliaferro selected what she described as "a kind of grilled apricot chicken," without the pasta. She's also a fan of the popular endless salad.
Kenneth Hall, general manager of the Albany Olive Garden, is originally from Chicago but found most of his culinary experience in Albany as manager of a Wendy's and also at Cracker Barrel. He's been with Olive Garden around 15 months, he said.
"(Olive Garden) has been eagerly anticipated for about 15 years in Albany," Hall said. "I'm thankful that Darden (Olive Garden's parent company) has allowed me to be a steward of this restaurant to make sure we exceed the expectations of our guests."
New Olive Gardens are popping up throughout Southwest Georgia with a franchise in Valdosta and soon to be in Tifton. Hall said Darden also builds "synergy" restaurants, where guests can choose either a Red Lobster or an Olive Garden within the same building, served by a common kitchen. According to Hall, synergy restaurants will be opening in Thomasville and in Waycross.
Hall said the Olive Garden on Dawson Road in Albany is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.