When Marilyn Hagerty penned her first restaurant review of Olive Garden eight years ago, she never expected it to go viral. Now, she has returned to the restaurant that accidentally launched her viral career — and her revisit did not disappoint!
Back in 2012, The Grand Forks Herald published Hagerty’s earnest review of Olive Garden.
“All in all, it is the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks,” she wrote then.
Almost immediately, she started getting responses from around the world — at first, she said the notes were extremely negative and mocking, but then later, she started getting messages from people in other small towns who wanted her to know that they too enjoyed eating at Olive Garden.
“It was fun and it was kind of funny and yet after all the bombasting I got from sophisticated people around the country, I started getting messages from people in places like Waterloo, Iowa, and little towns in Colorado and they’d tell me they had an Olive Garden and they liked it too,” she told TODAY in an interview on Tuesday.
The viral article took her all the way to New York City, where she appeared on TODAY and met chef Anthony Bourdain.
"We had coffee and talked, I think he just wanted to see what kind of idiot I was or if I was,” she laughed. “We had coffee and visited and at that time he asked about putting together a selection of my columns and it was published.”
That’s right, Hagerty has her own book, "Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews," that was edited by the late Anthony Bourdain, who became her biggest fan.
“She is never mean — even when circumstances would clearly excuse a sharp elbow, a cruel remark. In fact, watching Marilyn struggle to find something nice to say about a place she clearly loathes is part of the fun,” Bourdain wrote in the foreward. “She is, unfailingly, a good neighbor and good citizen first — and entertainer second.”
In the years that passed, Hagerty continued to write her columns for the Grand Forks Herald. A writer since she was in high school and a former newspaper features editor, she still turns in three pieces a week at the age of 93.
This time around at Olive Garden, Hagerty ordered the same thing as her original journey: fettuccine Alfredo, at the price of $12.99.
“The salad was nicely chilled. But since there were only two black olives to be found, I asked for more,” she wrote in her review. She noted a chat she had with her server, a student at the nearby University of North Dakota, and the manager told her more than half of their waitstaff attends the school.
“This week, I met Glen and Nancy Weber of Starkweather, N.D.,” Hagerty wrote in her Feb. 3 post. “They said they often stop at the Olive Garden. They were enjoying cheese ravioli and classic lasagna.”
Hagerty told TODAY she often revisits restaurants she’s previously reviewed and just “couldn’t resist” going back to Olive Garden.
“It seemed quite ridiculous for somebody in Grand Forks, North Dakota, to be writing about a restaurant and ended up on the TODAY Show and stuff like that,” she laughed. But she believes what she does is worthwhile.
“… I think it was in the fact that small-town restaurants have a role to play,” she said.