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Okon: Again Joliet asks, Why no Olive Garden?

A sign can be seen outside of an Olive Garden restaurant location in Pennsylvania on Feb. 9.
A sign can be seen outside of an Olive Garden restaurant location in Pennsylvania on Feb. 9.

The absence of an Olive Garden restaurant in Joliet became an official matter of discussion one more time this week.

This has been a recurring theme since the early 1990s when the Joliet Commons shopping center, which includes the city’s Target store, was being built. There was talk then of an Olive Garden going into the new development. It did not, and Olive Garden ever since keeps getting mentioned as something Joliet residents really want to have in town.

So noted Councilwoman Jan Quillman at the Tuesday city council meeting.

“People want to know why we don’t have an Olive Garden,” Quillman said when it was her turn during the council comments section of the meeting in which council members discuss random topics.

Here we go again, I thought to myself, having heard this matter raised off and on over the years. Olive Garden Envy seems to be an incurable neurosis in this town. There’s one in Bolingbrook. There’s one in Orland Park. There’s one in Naperville. There’s one in Oswego. There’s one in Bourbonnais. There are about 20 in the Chicago metropolitan area, which creates aggravation that there is none in Joliet but may also help explain why there is none in Joliet.

Quillman brought up the topic because she said Joliet Economic Development Director Steve Jones had told her Olive Garden is not building any new restaurants in Illinois.

Actually, Jones said, he had been told by a commercial real estate broker that Olive Garden was not opening any more restaurants in the Chicago area.

“The proximity has always been an issue,” Jones said, adding that there was concern that there would be “cannibalization” among restaurants by adding another one in Joliet.

Whether or not Olive Garden plans to open more restaurants in this region and whether or not proximity to other locations has kept the chain out of Joliet, I don’t know.

But Councilman Larry Hug made a suggestion at that meeting similar to what I began thinking years ago.

“We do have Barolo’s,” Hug said. “It’s better than any chain I’ve been to. People should go there.”

Not that I’m suggesting people go to Barolo Ristorante or any other particular Italian restaurant in Joliet, but I always thought there was something pathetic about pining for a restaurant that for whatever reason doesn’t want to locate in Joliet.

Meanwhile, Olive Garden appears to be doing very well these days.

Just two days after the council meeting, news came out that stock in the company that owns Olive Garden was on the rise thanks primarily to the restaurant’s growth in business.

Parent company Darden Restaurants reported earnings and restaurant sales for the third quarter of its fiscal year.

Olive Garden sales were up 5.3 percent for the quarter and 5.5 percent for the first three quarters of Darden’s fiscal year.

One thing not in the quarterly report is any explanation for why the company has not put an Olive Garden in Joliet.

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