Can’t Beat That Tour of Italy

CAN’T BEAT THAT TOUR OF ITALY “It’s getting more competitive out here, and the better restaurants are continuing to perform well and the lesser ones are being replaced,” — Planned Community Developers’ Steve Eubanks, comparing the success of the recently opened Olive Garden in the area to the recent fate of Amici Ristorante in PCD’s own Sugar Land Town Center. Amici, which is closing its doors after two years of operation, was developed by Bruce McMillian and Jeff Vallone, son of famed Houston restaurateur Tony Vallone. Eubanks describes the Olive Garden off the 59 Freeway at Sweetwater Blvd. in Sugar Land as already “one of the top-performing restaurants in the chain.” [Houston Business Journal]

20 Comment

  • Olive Garden success philosophy-“sometimes, you don’t need to be good, you just have to be the least crappy option and provide large portions”

  • The problem with Italian restaurants in the burbs is that they alienate diners with menus that are too difficult to understand because they are too true to their Italian dishes and ingredients. People go to Olive Garden not because the food is better than at the Vallone’s Italian restaurant, but because they can understand what is on the menu and order without needing to spend a few weeks with a Rosetta Stone program.

  • These restaurants successes and failures are mutually exclusive of each other. Their price points, customer are completely different. I would suggest the Amici restaurant, or at least the developer, are passing off Olive Garden as the issue when the real problem is the Amici itself…either of its own internal issues or the real estate.

    I would never dine at Olive Garden myself, but with children and/or a limited family dining budget, this may be a great option.

    It’s an indicator, whether positive or negative, on Sugarland as a community that Olive Garden is wildly successful, but a concept from one of the leading restauranteurs of Houston can’t make it.

    At best, it says Sugarland people are family-first residents, thrifty, and responsive to national branded restaurants. At worst, it says…well, nothin’ good.

  • Ft. Bend County diners will always reward restaurants that throw in all-u-can-eat breadsticks (or anything).

    They keep havin’ to cut new notches in their bible belts….

  • The Amici website is still up–including menus.

    There is a full description of every dish–in English. Nothing at all difficult to understand. Probably a bit more expensive than Olive Garden…

  • I’m sure it’s just the poor suburban Christian breeders that eat at Olive Garden. I bet they do a bang up after church business. Why don’t you add race and sexual preference stereotypes in as well.

  • Does this surprise anyone? I will likely never eat at Olive Garden again. Did it once 9 yrs ago; not my thing. Many of the people who love OG will likely never dine at my favorite Italian restaurants Da Marco or Giacomo’s; not their thing. Nothing earth-shatering here, just different strokes.
    I do wonder though why Vallone would even attempt a restaurant in one of the most suburban (in every way) locales in the country. Few chef-driven, higher price point restaurants ever make it in such places unless urbanites are regularly willing to drive out to them, like at Bootsie’s. Doesn’t seem worth the risks.
    Not trying to sound “elitist” but when most of my suburban friends describe a restaurant as being great in their area; the criteria for that accolade is almost always that they serve “huge” portions. There is never a discussion of exceptional ingredients, outstanding service, decor, or experience, but always just about how much food you get. Seems like Vallone may have been out of his league so to speak. Like I said, different strokes.

  • Wow, yall just love to hate on the suburban culture. Maybe the name of this blog should be renamed to something more fitting.

  • Please feel free to call me an elitist all damn day. The suburbs are full to bursting with fat, tasteless philistines who line up to eat ‘endless’ doughy salt licks drenched in oily goo, followed by goo-filled dough smothered in yet more salty, oily goo. I’m not hatin–in fact I’m sure many of those 3X townie sweatballs have kind, loving hearts. But good lord, that’s some nasty eating habits.
    Have you seen the latest OG ads? Ball-sack pasta? Sachettios? Sacco-n-Vanzettios? I’d make a joke but those taste-challenged provincial chubbs wouldn’t get it.

  • I never eat at OG. It’s just the general tone of the blog sometimes and almost always by the responders. I didn’t call anyone an elitist.

    Feel free to hate on OG but why does the hating have to extend to the people?

  • I’m always amused by the Olive Garden hate which rears its head every so often in the self-proclaimed “foodie” community. We go once or twice a year. Never had a bad meal, never had bad service. Always thought we got a good value for our money. It’s not Tony’s. It’s not Da Marco. It’s pleasant American interpretations of Italian style comfort food. Oh, and those endless servings? The most famous one is…salad, lightly drizzled, not drenched, with vinagrette dressing. Huge portions? That just means leftovers for tomorrow, just like it does at Pappas. I guess you could fill up on breadsticks if you really want to, but why do that when you are actually paying for a meal?

  • I have never had a good (or inexpensive) meal at OG and never experienced good service. Just overpriced, poorly executed ‘entrees’ served with an attitude. Carrabba’s, especially the original location on Kirby, beats them in price and quality hands down. The best OG has to offer is their oily salad and breadsticks….hard to screw that up.

  • See, that’s the weird thing. I’ve heard more or less what MarketingWiz says above, over and over from lots of people. Especially the server “attitude” part. So when we go there on our semi-annual visits I’m watching for that. Never seen it. I agree original Carrabba’s is great, if noisy and crowded. But sometimes out in the burbs you just don’t want to drive that far.

  • Well, this is a fine commentary on the state of Ft. Bend diners’s tastebuds.

  • Sometimes I wonder if some commenters are making observations of the same world in which I live. If you “never” go to OG, how do you know the servers have an attitude?
    And really, hating Olive Garden? If you don’t like the place, don’t go – and then chill out. Unless you had a family member die of food poisoning there, there’s no need for this much dislike.

    And then, not liking the diners who go there?!?

    With Carraba’s, yeah it’s loud, but the food is good. There are tradeoffs. For Olive Garden too. And that goes for real estate as well.

  • Cannot believe we have not already tied the people of Walmart to the patrons of Olive Garden (that is when they are goin all fancy and stuff). C’mon it is no secret the people in suburbs generally like them because they do not have the unpredictability of the inner city. And what parents are going to want to throw away money at a Vallone restaurant when their kids will waste food or only want chicken nuggets?

  • Patrons Of Olive Garden = POOG

    For readers of this thread, I recommend renting the food movie “Big Night.” Italian immigrant brothers Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub try to make their way with a gourmet Italian restaurant in a 1950’s Long Island coastal town, but struggle for business against Ian Holm’s “Italian” restaurant that has flashy entertainment and decor and absolutely atrocious food. Isabella Rosselini and Minnie Driver are the love interests. Great movie.

  • This restaurant was opened in Sugar Land only because the Vallone’s were legally barred from opening a new restaurant within x miles of la Griglia & The Grotto. This was a stipulation in their sale to Landry’s.

    Also, I can blame them for wanting to open there. The median hh income in Sugar Land is quite high, which should contribute to a sucessful hihg-end italian restaurant.

    Their downfall was their quality. I know firsthand from former employees – both front and back of the house – of their sketchy actions. Topping of premium bottles with well bottles, serving frozen tilapia and billing it as gourmet fresh (trout, sea bass, whatever else)

    There’s plenty more grey area actions – I simply hope they’ve wised up with their new restaurants in the loop

  • I’ve been to Amici before (once), and I eat at the Olive Garden. I live in the loop and work in the burbs. I had a great time at Amici and enjoyed my food. The service was meh and the place was loud. I’m not surprised that it didn’t take. Amici doesn’t come across as a place that you would go all the time. The restaurant, via their layout, looked too big. Even when there were people in the restaurant, it looked empty (just look at the 1st page of their website and you’ll see). They had great location with good foot traffic where people walking by can look right in and visually the restaurant was attractive. I agree that out in Sugar Land, chains and name-recognition goes a long way for people who aren’t really into experimenting with expensive food. But, when you have an empty-looking, expensive restaurant that you’ve never heard about, what’s your incentive to go in and experiment when you live out in a family-oriented burbs? Sorry Amici for your closing, as I was definitely a fan. But you brought it upon yourself with bad layout & design.

  • What do you expect — after all – the place is called “SUGAR LAND” — sounds like some place you would find Willy Wonka in retirement !