Olive Garden is a casual dining American restaurant chain specializing in Italian-American food. It bills itself as a traditional family restaurant with Old World-inspired dishes, although its selection of Italian dishes is limited: there is no veal, nor are there Fra Diavlo dishes or cold cut antipasto appetizer platters. The first Olive Garden opened by General Mills on December 13, 1982, in Orlando, Florida. As of 2008, there are 657. Excepting Edmonton, Alberta and Langley, British Columbia, the Canadian restaurants are closed. (Some were converted to East Side Mario's restaurants.)
By 1989 General Mills had opened 145 stores, making it one of the fastest-growing units in the company's restaurant holdings. While not a "critical success", it was popular, and its per-store sales soon matched the sister company Red Lobster. The company became the largest chain of Italian-themed full-service restaurants in the U.S. Olive Garden is owned by Darden Restaurants, Inc., which was spun off from General Mills in 1995.
Olive Garden restaurants are an Italian style, utilizing foliage in their decor, stucco walls, and background music consisting of Italian themes. The company also honors their General Managers and recognizes their importance by placing the Manager's name in Tavertine Marble by the front door at their restaurants.
Newer restaurants are styled after a farmhouse in the town of Castellina in Chianti, Tuscany, on the grounds of the Rocca delle Macie winery. The farmhouse is home to the Riserva di Fizzano restaurant adjoining the Olive Garden Culinary Institute of Tuscany, which is led by executive chef Romana Neri.