After years of eager anticipation, the question of when Olive Garden would finally come to Guam has been answered, with the Italian comfort food chain's first Guam location opening Oct. 9 at Tumon Sands Plaza.
Its waiting list was already full, and Olive Garden General Manager Paolo Dizon says in the restaurant's first few days of opening they had already seated and fed more than 1,500 people.
Two days after its opening, people were already lined up outside the door well before the restaurant's 11 a.m. opening time, watching through 12-foot wrought-iron gates as servers set tables and readied the restaurant for yet another nonstop day.
That means if you're in the mood for endless soup, salad and breadsticks, you might be in for a wait. But Dizon says it's well worth it.
"For the last few days ... we definitely had a wait list from morning to night. But of course, we try to accommodate everyone as fast as possible," he says, adding that he's gotten plenty of customer feedback since opening. "I speak to them during and after their meals and ... ask them how was the wait. Right after they experience our restaurant, they definitely didn't even care about the wait anymore."
The restaurant occupies a former vacant hallway in Tumon Sands Plaza, now transformed into an almost-al-fresco dining experience, as a vaulted ceiling lined with skylights soars above murals depicting Florence and the Tuscan countryside.
Pair that with Olive Garden's famous Tour of Italy – a plate packed with Chicken Parmigiana, Lasagna Classico and Fettuccine Alfredo – and you can do as the Romans do without ever buying a plane ticket.
Years in the making
Bringing Olive Garden to the island was a labor of love for the concept's 80-plus employees, according to Dizon.
"We've been working to get Olive Garden for about three years now," he says. All of the decor you see in the restaurant was installed by its own staff after construction, Dizon says. And prior to that, several staff flew to Olive Garden No. 1 in Florida, where they spent six weeks training alongside some of Olive Garden's best.
"We spent a lot of time in the kitchen, actually, to make sure we got the proper taste, the proper look of the authenticity of Olive Garden," he says. "When we returned, we pretty much built this place from the ground up."
When opening was imminent, 12 Olive Garden trainers flew to Guam so that all staff members could learn the ins and outs of "hospitaliano," which Dizon says is "hospitality to its greatest peak."
Combined with Guam's own håfa adai spirit, customers can expect an exceptionally warm welcome.
'We take hospitality seriously'
"Hospitality, especially in Guam, is definitely one of those things that you can tell the difference," Dizon says. "Olive Garden is already known for hospitality. But then, when you bring it to an island that is all about hospitality, it adds more to that."
He adds, "I've spoken to a lot of guests that say, 'Oh my gosh, this is the best Olive Garden I've been to.' They might just be saying that to me," he says with a laugh. "But ... even the trainers have said how smooth this opening was compared to a lot of their openings and ... how humble our people are ... because we take hospitality seriously."
Bringing out good food with good prices "is definitely well deserved for everyone that dines in," Dizon says.
Olive Garden's extensive menu features modern takes on Italian classics, such as its popular Chicken and Shrimp Carbonara – a heaping plate of pasta topped with a creamy white sauce laced with smoky bacon and sweet, roasted red peppers.
For a lighter dish that's still heavy on the pasta, guests can try Chicken Giardino, a medley of vegetables and grilled chicken tossed with pappardelle pasta and a light herb sauce.
Drinks and dessert
Whatever your entree order, just be sure to give the dessert menu a glance before you go.
"We've been getting a lot of raves also about our dessert options," Dizon says. The current island favorite is the zeppoli, which are small Italian doughnuts dusted with powdered sugar, and reminiscent of New Orleans' famed beignets, served with a chocolate dipping sauce.
Keep an eye out, too, for some helpful hints from the menu, which offers suggested drink pairings with select dishes. Olive Garden offers more than 30 wines, Dizon says. To help you make the right choice, servers are trained in wine pairings and also offer 1-ounce wine samplings.
So far, Olive Garden has lived up to the hype, Dizon says.
"It showed how much we've been preparing," he says of the successful opening. "It showed how much care we've put into this place. ... We actually had returning customers. I had a lady that came into the restaurant ... three times in one day. ... That definitely says a lot."