‘Hospitaliano!’

LAKEWOOD – A half-a-foot of snow wasn’t enough to stop Olive Garden lovers from trying the new restaurant in Lakewood.

With Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra playing in the background, the Olive Garden was packed full of patrons for the business’s 11 a.m. Monday opening.

The foyer of the new restaurant was lined with several customers as they passed around menus to get a look at what they could order as they waited to be seated. Linda Bittinger and April Pratt, who are mother and daughter, made the trip to Lakewood from Sherman. They both said they are grateful they no longer have to travel out of the area to eat their Olive Garden favorites.

”I just love their soups and salads,” Pratt said. ”We put this on our calendar two weeks ago.”

Bittinger said the two haven’t had time to meet up recently. However, once they heard about the new Olive Garden opening by the Chautauqua Mall along Fairmount Avenue, they knew it was time to meet.

”We’ve been looking forward to this,” Bittinger said.

Pratt added, ”We’re killing two birds with one stone,” about the mother and daughter reunion, and trying the new restaurant.

Tina Anderson from West Ellicott made the trip to the new business because she was curious to see what would be happening during the opening.

”I just wanted to see what it was like,” she said.

Anderson said she usually goes to the one in Erie with her husband when they’re craving Olive Garden entrees.

”Yes we will,” was Anderson’s answer to if she will enjoy not having to travel as far to eat at Olive Garden anymore.

N&D Restaurants, which is a subsidiary of Darden Restaurants, are the owners of the Olive Garden. The company also owns and operates the Red Lobster in Lakewood.

The business is located on the former site of the Firestone Auto Center in front of the Chautauqua Mall. In October 2011, Darden officials first attended a Lakewood Planning Board meeting to discuss the preliminary plans for the Olive Garden restaurant. Darden then purchased more than 2 acres of land from Simon Properties, owners of the Chautauqua Mall, for the restaurant.