The construction of Aiken’s first Olive Garden restaurant is getting closer to completion. Workers are busy at the Southside site, even on weekends.
They’ve installed doors and stone veneer covers the new building where signage has been in place for a while.
“I know folks are getting excited because an Olive Garden has been on Aiken’s wish list for years,” said Aiken Chamber of Commerce President and CEO J. David Jameson. “National chains are good for the city along with independent businesses. This happens to be a well-known chain that has entered our market, so that’s a positive sign for the strength of our market.”
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Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon also likes what is happening at 2265 Whiskey Road, where another restaurant, Golden Corral, was demolished prior to the start of the Olive Garden’s construction.
“It does look good over there,” he said.
Osbon described the desire of Aiken’s residents for an Olive Garden as “one of the largest grassroots push for a restaurant or business in our community that I have ever seen.”
The city also was involved in the effort, and Aiken’s economic development director, Tim O’Briant, talked recently about the municipality’s role in transforming the dream of a local Olive Garden into a reality.
The Olive Garden chain is a subsidiary of Darden Restaurants, which is headquartered in Florida and has other eateries under its umbrella such as Ruth’s Chris Steak House, LongHorn Steakhouse, Cheddar’s and Bahama Breeze.
“Over the years, we did communicate with the Darden group that there was public sentiment in support of Olive Garden here,” O’Briant said. “We even sent them some of the social media comments that had been out there just to tell them how interested our market was in their restaurant.
“We also employed Retail Strategies, which is a national consultant,” he continued. “We did that in partnership with the Western SC Economic Development Partnership, the Aiken Chamber of Commerce and the Aiken Corporation. We all put in money to hire them to represent us at national events, where real estate developers and restaurant groups and all kinds of other retailers have representatives.”Tim O’Briant, economic development director
In addition, O’Briant attended International Council of Shopping Centers events in cities such as Atlanta and Las Vegas.
“Our (the city’s) role is basically to make sure that we’ve got good information out there about available properties and opportunities in our market as retailers are reviewing their expansion plans, and that certainly was the case with Olive Garden,” O’Briant said.
But there was only so much that Aiken could do to try to convince Darden Restaurants that the city was a good Olive Garden location, according to O’Briant.
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“Fortunately or unfortunately, neither the city nor its economic development department can take the credit or the blame absolutely for Olive Garden,” he said. “The Darden restaurant group already was in our market with a LongHorn restaurant, so they (Darden) were of aware of the demographics here. That (statistical information) is really what makes the decision for those national folks.
“They decide to move when they decide to move, and no amount of begging on our part is really going to change that,” O’Briant concluded.
Aiken has a Red Lobster, which was in Darden’s family of restaurants prior to being sold in 2014.
In April, a spokesperson for Darden told the Aiken Standard that Aiken’s Olive Garden was scheduled to open this fall.
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