Marilyn Hagerty, Grand Forks Olive Garden Reviewer, Speaks

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Grand Forks Herald

Marilyn Hagerty isn't the first person to review the Olive Garden -- in fact, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Jonathan Gold did that very thing in the LA Weekly last April -- and she won't be the last. But for some reason, her very factual review of the "long-awaited" franchise in Grand Forks, North Dakota, a town with 50,000-55,000 people and approximately 100 licensed kitchens, has caught Internet fire within the last 24 hours. It doesn't make any sense to the retired columnist, either.

Marilyn, who is "the same age as the queen of England," has been writing Eatbeat for decades. The chain-food reporting is just one of five columns she writes for the Grand Forks Herald, where she was previously lifestyle editor until she retired. ("I kept writing my columns at the invitation of my colleagues at the Herald," she explains.) We caught her on deadline this morning in her home office, where she found a few minutes to talk. For the record, she doesn't give a twit what you self-styled food experts think.

Your Olive Garden review has been getting a lot of attention on the Internet.

Yeah, I don't get it.

When did you notice the review getting attention?

When I open my laptop every morning, I always check my messages. I've been writing the Eatbeat for 30 or 40 years. Some people don't like it, some people do like it, blah blah blah. But the bottom line is that my publisher many years ago told me, "Marilyn, I like what you do. I like the way you handle this." So that's the way I handle it.

I was lifestyle editor of the newspaper [before this] and I went to many national meetings of newspaper food writers, traveled with them, then I'd hear the people from Pittsburgh and Los Angeles and Seattle talk about their food restaurant reviews. We're a city the size of about 50 to 55,000. We didn't have a restaurant review. If you were going to review the fine dining here, you'd be done in three weeks -- there's only about three places you could call "fine dining." And the rest is lots of restaurants and lots of fast-food places.

So I decided I would write news stories about restaurants because people in our area read the paper. They come into town to shop. They need to know what's available and what it costs.

Was the Olive Garden opening really such a big deal?

Oh, it was one of the biggest deals in ages. The rumors had been floating around for a decade. [Whispers] The Olive Garden is coming to town. For some reason, people go to the Olive Garden in Fargo and they think it's just wonderful. So it was greatly anticipated. The rumors went for several years.


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75 comments
toddepp
toddepp

You go Marilyn! I love your attitude, my fellow Dakotan!

Guest
Guest

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John78729
John78729

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dithy
dithy

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lauraaaaa
lauraaaaa

Good lord - this is all so PATRONIZING - literally, patronizing. I hope this woman is having a good time, but the whole thing is just ridick.

M4
M4

I lived in Grand Forks for four years. I now live in western North Dakota and the thing I find refreshing about North Dakotans is unlike my native, pretentious and snarky to the extreme home state of California, North Dakotans just don't care what you think. Not in a rude way, but in a "I don't have time to care about what a (insert whomever you wish) thinks of me. I have to be up at 4 a.m.". They wear the jokes and disdain aimed towards them like a badge of honor. Many of them see an Olive Garden, or...gasp....a Red Lobster as an expensive treat and can't imagine spending thirteen dollars for a meal several times a month. They are quite thrifty and see nothing wrong with that.

Where do they splurge on food? Church suppers raising money for a family going through a medical issue or a loss of a family member. The tiny town of 600 I live near raised almost for a family who suffered a tragic loss.

That is why I will not leave North Dakota until I am in a coffin, even though I suffer through Taco John's burritos stuffed with hidden tater tots.

Mark
Mark

I like the reviewer, but detest Olive Garden. Every once in a great while I wonder why I never go to Olive Garden, Red Lobster, or Outback Steak House. Then I end up at one of those establishments with a group of people and my memory is refreshed.

I'm no food snob. I just don't think their chow is all that great. 

Howard Knut Thompson
Howard Knut Thompson

To Ms. Hagerty's comment about twitting with food snobs, amen. Very well said. 

Steve
Steve

The to hear a review on a normal place that most people afford to eat.

Suetonius
Suetonius

You have to love someone who insists she does "not have time to let myself be bothered or read all that stuff" on Facebook.  And after Joanbill's comments, I will have to have a look at some of her other articles, not on the basis of the review so much as on the basis of her reaction to all of the attention.  Unlike me (and, if you are honest, you yourself reader), I am guessing this is a woman who has never googled herself.  That alone is to be highly admired.

Nicholas Robinson
Nicholas Robinson

I once had several dinners with Robert Sietsema, the Voice's food critic. Four dinners in one night, as a matter of fact. My pal at montrealfood.com wrote a review of McDonald's a long time back. The only reason it didn't go viral then was because the term hadn't been invented yet, except when referring to viruses.

I thought it was a great review. Maybe now it'll go viral: http://www.montrealfood.com/re...

bekind
bekind

I hope Camille was good enough to tell Marilyn how to avoid losing her entire Sunday piece by hitting the wrong key - go on the cloud and write in Google Docs, Marilyn!  Pretty shameful if she didn't.  

Max
Max

wow she is just so...AUTHENTIC

Joanbill
Joanbill

There is a lot more to Marilyn than just all these comments.  She is quite a lady who has a super writing style.  She is not hesitant to describe her happy moments, her family and her worst moments.  She lost a daughter just before Christmas.  Her husband was the editor at the GF Herald before he retired and passed away several years ago.  She lived through the Grand Forks flood of the century in 1997 and came back to describe her experiences in her usual simple prose that made great reading.  Her recent columns in which her dog, Dotcom, is featured are a delight.  And her weekly letters to her sister, printed as a column, cover the waterfront on all the happenings in a small town.  She also has an annual Christmas Eve column in which she describes her Christmas Eve long ago when she was growing up in Pierre, South Dakota.  Oh what memories they bring back.  Love her and hope you have many more years Marilyn

Kjw509
Kjw509

I'm thinkin' that the person who emailed her with the word "pathetic" may very well have been Satan himself . . . .

LoopyAnne
LoopyAnne

Marilyn's glass of Sprite is kept half full, not empty.  That's a lot more than can be said of most restaurant reviewers.

Marne
Marne

I remember being a new student at UND in Grand Forks almost 20 years ago and avidly reading Marilyn's restaurant reviews in the Herald twice a week.  Even then I thought the tone was a little dry and factual (and I always made fun of her insistance on including a napkin-size rating for each place), but for someone new to town, they were exactly what I needed.  The fact that she didn't just include the expensive, trendy restaurants in her scope meant that I, as a broke college freshman, could actually aspire to dining at some of the places she reviewed myself.  Nowadays, I'm adjusting to another new town (Parkersburg, W.V.) and wishing that our local newspaper had such helpful reviews.  Instead I'm forced to scour Yelp for hints about what makes each local eatery special and often coming up dry.

Tricatz
Tricatz

...and what difference does it make if it's a chain?  If there were 5 of these places in the area it would be different, but since the major cities in ND are spread out, a chain restaurant in Grand Forks is just as unique as a local one.

Kma815
Kma815

Who gave Marilyn attitudes?  I want to know!!!!!

Tricatz
Tricatz

How anyone can say the food at one location of a chain is the same as another is beyond me.  There are all kinds of "chain" places in the area, and the food quality is different at each one.  Even the decor varies.  Anyone who thinks all Olive Gardens are exactly the same doesn't get out much.

drboba
drboba

I found Ms. Hagerty's review to be utterly Hemmingway-esque in its plain and direct style, and Woodsian in its simplicity.  But in like all good works of art,  there is more here than meets the eye.

Here are the Cliff notes for this review:  She made absolutely zero comments on the quality or taste of the food.  She simply described her experience, her entree, and remarked on how pretty the decor of the restaurant is. The food is damned by its faint (nonexistent) praise.  In this way, Ms. Hagerty was able to accomplish her job as a city booster, and yet excoriate the Olive Garden.  Come on, folks, when one reviews a restaurant called the Olive Garden, and refers the quantity of olives in the house salad, can you not understand the blistering subtext?  This review was an elegant piece of art, simple, direct, pleasant, and beneath it all, utterly damning.  

In this, I guess, she was to subtle for all the "sophisticates" posting here.

Baconbot
Baconbot

I can't be the only one who wants to see her review of some "legitimately fancy" place in NYC like Babbo or Per Se right? I'd buy that paper.

Max
Max

Word is she has entered the race for Republican nominee and is polling OFF THE CHARTS.

Omahan
Omahan

I'm from Omaha, so I admit I found the post a little funny at first since it wouldn't be a huge deal here if a Olive Garden opened, but, I found it nice to read something like this. Not the usual cynical critic that just tears everything down, but someone who is just down-to-earth, who gets it, and isn't snobbish or anything. I like Olive Garden. I like Pizza Ranch. Yeah, they aren't the fanciest places in the world, but I like 'em, and that's what matters.

Googie Bergdorff
Googie Bergdorff

No matter how long I live here, New Yorkers will never cease to embarrass me.

Internetguy
Internetguy

I, for one, am just happy to read a positive news story for once.

WhatsTheBigDeal?
WhatsTheBigDeal?

Grand Forks is a small simple town where dining is nearly the only form of entertainment. So, we get excited for an Olive Garden, whats the big deal?

Thomas Ritchie
Thomas Ritchie

If you liked this Olive Garden review, this one drew the same attention when it went viral a few years back. It still gets revisited by the Gawker crowd every few years, thanks to Twitter.

The lead: A martini is not a martini without an olive.

A fun read that one reader once called "the best Onion story that is not an Onion story". Here it is: http://bit.ly/wW31Bp If that's not enough, here's a story from CJR about the story and how it went viral. http://bit.ly/ADCbCy

Ping_Pong
Ping_Pong

This was done with much more taste than that of your counterpart in the beautiful city of Minneapolis. He was a condescending asshole to her. If you notice the comments, nobody appreciated it:  http://blogs.citypages.com/foo...  

Mars
Mars

I've been reading Marylin Hagerty's reviews for years (I used to live in Grand Forks but am now in Anchorage, Alaska). Yes, her reviews can come across as simplistic and provincial but for someone like me who knows her writing style this is just another review. Also, for a place like Grand Forks an Olive Garden is a big deal. We just got an Olive Garden here in Anchorage and (at almost 300,000 people) while we have about 6 times the population of Grand Forks the Olive Garden opening here is just as big a deal as it is there.

While I can see how others from more metropolitan areas find her reviews amusingly quaint, I for one enjoy her candid, straight forward reviews.

Steamy
Steamy

 You sound like one of the food snobs that didn't like her review of the Olive Garden.   I find it interesting, too, that you took the time to read the entire article - and post a response to it.  If I didn't like the article, I would have just ignored it and moved on to something else.  But you found it necessary to post a negative comment instead.   That says a lot more about you than it does about the interview.

Joanbill
Joanbill

 Great post M4 and you echo my sentiments exactly.  My wife and I were both born and raised in New Orleans but the Air Force sent us to the north country (North and South Dakota) where we remained by choice and and retired having spent a total of 36 years in Gods Country.   Still have plans to go back and die there but right now we are tied down with a very aged mother-in-law in a southern state.  Your comments about North Dakotans taking the jokes with a "Who gives a danm" attitude" are right on the mark.  In summary, these are tough people who live an honest life and could care less what a New York food critic thinks of them.

M4
M4

That should be raised almost 7,000.

Steamy
Steamy

 I agree with you, but you must understand that in many small towns these chain restaurants are the best available,   If Olive Garden is the best you have, you appreciate it more than those of us who live in areas where there are better private restaurants around. 

For example, my mother lived in a tiny Southern town where the "best" high-end restaurant served "spaghetti" that was not made with spaghetti noodles, and was covered in what could best be described as ketchup sauce.   An Olive Garden would have been gourmet dining in that town.

Carl
Carl

Oh honey, stop trying so hard. You sound almost as funny as the snobs. You would fail a class on Hemingway - not just because you can't spell his name - and you've likely never lived in the rural Midwest. Stop overanalyzing. Stop trying to champion this woman. She doesn't need your affirmation. She's great for giving the town exactly what the townspeople want, in a tone they'll want to read. Her utter lack of pretention is refreshing. Your assigning meaning to a non-existant subtext is a little comical. (Though perhaps I'm being too scathing; I do appreciate your attempt to debunk the disdainers.)

elizabeth ann
elizabeth ann

i will say, her review of olive garden didn't change my feelings on the place, but she has made me REALLY want to go to pizza ranch! and i have been considering a move to omaha (for reals!) and this could be a factor. 

Chris R Schneider
Chris R Schneider

thank you. i am from queens, and now live in germany. even here they know about amy fisher! and people are suprised i dont sound like fran dresher. oh well.

Erin Alberty
Erin Alberty

Yes. Subscribers of my hometown newspaper in Iowa would have stopped reading a local food column that trashed a new Olive Garden just because "it's a chain, it's exactly like all the other Olive Gardens." That means nothing when there are only two or three other sit-down restaurants in town and the nearest Olive Garden is hours away.

Me
Me

She rules. So do you. Please continue to be yourselves.

Jcthai
Jcthai

 At least she kept her comments directed at the article rather than engaging in ad hominem attacks like you.

Andrewjm82
Andrewjm82

 not to be a food snob/NYC Jerk/A-Hole etc...but if i moved to the midwest from the tristate and the best option to go to was an OG, do you knwo where i woudl eat? Home. Thats it. Italian food is by far the easiest, simplest, most basic way of cooking because it was invented by Italian moms & grandmas to be done while chatting, watching kids, and keeping an eye on the house(not now power ladies, im talking about when the stuff came to be created a couple hundred years ago). If your local place is serving crap (I'm looking at you OG...) go to a nice market, or if you're not into organic natural food, just buy a dang can of crushed or stewed tomatoes, saute an onion with some garlic, add meat, cook till brown, add tomatoes, seasoning, some chicken broth or red wine, and BOOM in 30 minute to an hour you'll be wiping the smile off the "Chefs" at the OG...come on people...you're kind of poisoning yourselves

Or do whatever you want...eat horrible bleached flour food feel over full and sick from unlimited bread-sticks, cheap wine and over salted food...enjoy either way

lc1715
lc1715

Dude, "drboba" is like, clearing joking.

Also, a general fact: It is possible to both praise Ms. Hagerty's genuineness and also laugh--privately--at her innocence.

Mias
Mias

I am going to Grand Forks this summer. I am putting Pizza Ranch on my list!

Tricatz
Tricatz

How anyone can say the food at one location of a chain is the same as another is beyond me.  There are all kinds of "chain" places in the area, and the food quality is different at each one.  Even the decor varies.  Anyone who thinks all Olive Gardens are exactly the same doesn't get out much.

Alan Thomas
Alan Thomas

Good point--in retrospect I feel bad for publicly mocking her.  My wife is a graduate of UND (located in Grand Forks) and apparently students there have snickered at her columns for years.  But that was always essentially private since it wasn't likely to get back to her or even to her friends.

Nate
Nate

Your post is absolutely true, and I agree (look to the Manager/Operator!) but there's still something great and slightly ironic about the statement, "Anyone who thinks all Olive Gardens are exactly the same doesn't get out much."

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