Olive Garden planning to open Grand Forks locationOlive Garden is seeking to build at the northeast corner of the intersection of 32nd Avenue South and South 31st Street in Grand Forks. That’s the now-closed Columbia 4 Theater, near Columbia Mall.
By: Tu-Uyen Tran, Grand Forks Herald
Yup. Olive Garden's really coming to Grand Forks. The company said so itself.
“As you know, we’ve been looking to secure a site here for a number of years,” Tom Hundrieser, the company’s real estate director, told the City Council’s safety committee Tuesday.
Olive Garden would begin the permitting process with the city around the April 20-25 timeframe, he said.
His words and a letter from the company requesting a change in the liquor licensing law appears to be the first unambiguous sign that it intended to open its first restaurant here. The nearest one now is in Fargo.
Rumors of a Grand Forks Olive Garden have circulated for years, with no confirmation or denial from the company, which only served to heighten speculation from the public. As a measure of interest in the matter, initial news of Olive Garden’s coming was among the most read and most e-mailed story on the Herald’s web site on Tuesday.
According to Olive Garden’s letter, it is seeking to build at the northeast corner of the intersection of 32nd Avenue South and South 31st Street. That’s the now-closed Columbia 4 Theater, near Columbia Mall.
The Italian-American restaurant chain would be the latest in a long line of casual dining chains that have opened on 32nd, the city’s main retail corridor. Other chains with a presence on or near the corridor include Applebee's, Denny's, Grizzly’s, Ground Round, IHOP, Red Lobster, Space Aliens and Texas Road House.
To open at its chosen location, though, Olive Garden said it wants a change in city law that would allow restaurants to have liquor licenses within 300 feet of any business that already has a license. As the law now stands, Olive Garden would have to ask for permission from nearby businesses with liquor licenses, Grizzly’s being one.
Hundrieser told council members that he had spoken with a Grizzly’s and the company representative was hesitant to give permission because Olive Garden would be a competitor. The representative told him he’ll think about it, Hundrieser said, but he hasn’t returned phone calls lately.
City Attorney Howard Swanson said he’s done some research into the law and found that it was meant to avoid a concentration of bars that could present a threat to public safety; it was not meant to address competition. However, the city had once exempted supper clubs until supper club liquor licenses were eliminated in favor of a general liquor license for restaurants, he said.
The safety committee asked Swanson to do some more research and bring an amendment to city codes to the full council Monday. The council would need to vote for the amendment Monday and again at its next meeting in April to change the law as Olive Garden requested.
Hundrieser said the company would like to know as soon as possible if that would happen so it can continue drawing up plans.
County records show that Olive Garden, known as GMRI Inc. for legal purposes, signed an agreement with landowner Columbia Outparcel 118 to replat the land earlier this month, but there’s been no change of ownership. The 2.5 acres is assessed at $1.1 million, including the value of the old theater.
Committee members seemed receptive to the Olive Garden’s requested changes to city codes.
“We appreciate your economic development to our community,” said Council member Terry Bjerke to Hundrieser.
“Those breadsticks will do really well,” said Council member Curt Kreun, displaying his knowledge of the company’s policy of unlimited breadsticks.
Olive Garden said it will employ about 120 in Grand Forks. The chain includes more than 700 other restaurants and more than 86,000 employees. It's owned by Darden, a company that also owns the Red Lobster chain, among others.
Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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