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Biz Buzz: Baxter's Olive Garden has new look for chain

If the Olive Garden in Baxter looks a little different to you, it’s not just that it’s new to the lakes area.

The chain changed the look for its new restaurants creating a rustic stone exterior and using a farmhouse look with exposed wooden beams and character of a farmhouse in Tuscany, Italy, as a model.

“This is how they’ll all be from now on,” said Olive Garden General Manager Miranda Ahlers. “We’re one of the newer ones to have the exact layout we have.”

About 150 people were hired for the restaurant. It’s Ahlers first restaurant as general manager.

“It’s been fabulous,” she said. “Things have gone much more smoothly than I could ever imagine.”

Ahlers has been with Olive Garden for more than seven years and made the move to the Brainerd lakes area from Wisconsin.

With changes in the building design, Ahlers said the food will be the same with the traditional entrees. The Baxter restaurant, which seats 246, is a little smaller than some but pretty typical, she said.

Inside the bar area is separate from the rest of the dining. Full service dining is available at the bar. Ahlers said the restaurant can respond to any size of group. The parking lot has dedicated parking for to-go orders. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, at least that continues to be the policy now.

Olive Garden has been involved in a year-long overhaul, which includes highlighting lower-calorie meals and those which are expected to appeal to folks on a budget.

And a new wrinkle for Olive Garden is a “Dinner Today, Dinner Tomorrow” as customers get a meal at the restaurant and take a second meal home with them with instructions on how to heat it for the next day. Guests may pick from five entrees for $12.95 for the take-home meals. The promotion across the chain started Monday. Industry watchers said Olive Garden is joining other restaurants like Applebee’s that already moved to offer economic options to appeal to customers in the new economy.

Among other seasonal food, Olive Garden has a winter soup on hand now in its chicken and potato Florentine. Ahlers said a couple is typically able to get a meal soup, salad, dinner meal with a drink for about $30 to $40.

Another change for Olive Garden comes with its signature wines, now Porta Vita created from the Cavit Winery in northern Italy exclusively for the restaurant. The wines come in a white, blush and red. Olive Garden notes it has been influenced by the popularity of moscato varieties.

The changes are all part of Olive Garden’s recent efforts to update its image, complete with new commercials and ad campaign slogan of “Go Olive Garden.” The company reported the menu changes are designed to make it easier for guests who are looking for lighter menu options less than 575 calories with entrees such as lasagna primavera with grilled chicken, seafood Brodetto, herb-grilled salmon, linguine alla marinara or Venetian apricot chicken.

Olive Garden is still looking to hire employees and is taking applications online.

Sun Country is offering nonstop flights between Minneapolis and Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Texas. Sun Country reports it carries about 30,000 travelers between the two cities each year, accounting for nearly 4 percent of Valley International Airport’s annual travelers. What began as a “winter Texan” commute, Sun Country says, is now a trip that includes spring breakers and Northerners seeking a winter break by visiting South Padre Island. Sun Country announced it is extending its nonstop flights through Memorial Day weekend.

The Northland Arboretum is hosting its ninth annual haunted trail 7-9 p.m. Oct. 18-19 with “The Pirates of the Arrrr-boretum.” It’s $5 at the door. Canned food donations are being accepted for the local food shelf.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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