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No Olive Garden this year

By Eric Fleischauer
DAILY Business Writer 340-2435

Hungry for Five Cheese Ziti al Forno? Hankering for Pasta e Fagioli? Sorry, but Olive Garden will not deliver anytime soon.

Olive Garden is opening 35 restaurants in 2007, but none is in Decatur.

"We do not have plans at this time to open up in Decatur," said Olive Garden's director of public relations, Steve Coe.

The earliest Decatur might have a chance is 2008. The company plans up to 40 new restaurants then, but it has not made final determinations as to where it will locate them.

For those salivating at the thought of Sicilian Scampi, he added a footnote that might provide some hope for 2008.

"Until we have a fully signed and executed contract to open in an area," Coe said, "then my response is always that, 'We have no plans at this time.' "

In a recent online poll, 47 percent of DAILY readers chose Olive Garden among the five listed restaurants they would like to see come to Decatur.

"We're really gratified that the folks in Decatur listed Olive Garden," Coe said. "We appreciate the enthusiasm for us coming there."

Gratified, yes. But will it come?

"The fact that there is that level of enthusiasm indicates an opportunity for us," Coe said.

Olive Garden does not look only at existing factors in a community, but at expected ones. An expected growth in population, like Decatur officials hope will result from Redstone Arsenal's expansion, could play a role.

"When we look at an area, we're looking not only at where it is now but at where it's going to be five years from now," Coe said. "It's more important where it's going to be."

Even if Decatur of today does not meet the restaurant's criteria, it still could choose to locate here.

"Often times," Coe said, "we will open in an area that we know is perhaps going to look significantly different three years down the road."

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