It appears as if the Evil Empire is expanding in CNY. An Olive Garden restaurant is slated for Commercial Drive in New Hartford, not far from Sangertown Square Mall. It would join a sister operation on Route 5 in DeWitt.
In my introduction to the Unchained Restaurants blog, way back in 2009, I wrote:
We’re focusing on New York, but if you’re road-tripping and want to share some ideas, please go ahead. Just remember, no mentions of Olive Garden or Cracker Barrel.
Well, I’m mentioning Olive Garden now because Mike, who runs the terrific Oliveri’s Pizzeria in Hamilton, talked about it with me the other day while I was there for lunch.
Mike hails from Utica, and is passionate about good — local — food. It’s evident in what he serves at his restaurant, from the pizza and wings to the subs and paninis to the vodka riggies and ravioli. It’s all great.
He supports his fellow local restaurateurs, telling me about places he’ll go — when he has time — to eat and to talk food. Places like Joey’s and Ventura’s, both in Utica. We lamented together the demise of Grimaldi’s and Tony Sparagna’s, the Utica restaurants that had represented local traditions, a homespun take on Italian food that was enjoyed by thousands for decades.
I think about Utica and I think Italian food; recipes brought over from the “old country” and tweaked and stirred so that they still resonate today. I also think about the new ethnic restaurants populating Bleecker Street and other sections of the city. Small restaurants carving out niches of their own.
What will an Olive Garden in the Utica area do to these local restaurants? We ate not too long ago at Michael T’s on Route 5, just down the road from where the Evil Empire is supposed to land. What about Cafe del Buono, right on Commercial Drive? How can those establishments not be hurt by the Italian-food processor?
I hope it won’t have an effect; but the Evil Empire is powerful. And just to be clear, I’m not against good, inexpensive food. I’m not against new tax revenues and new jobs. God knows we need that.
But I am against the numbification of food. The way chains like OG neglect all that is local and impose their corporate tastes in such a uniform way as to erase any hint of distinctiveness or respect for an area’s heritage. There is no connection to place; you can be at an Olive Garden in Ohio or New Jersey (sorry, for you) and you won’t see anything special; unique; diverse.
And that is a shame. And that is my rant.