Joliet gets its Olive Garden

A Long-Awaited Dream Comes True

In a heartwarming tale of determination, Nathan Ditton and his trusty bicycle exemplify the unyielding desire of Joliet residents for an Olive Garden Restaurant. On a sunny Monday morning at precisely 11 a.m., Olive Garden opened its doors to a crowd of over 50 eager patrons. Remarkably, this fervent reception came less than 24 hours after many had indulged in a lavish Easter dinner. However, this momentous occasion had been a long time coming.

From Pedaling to Pleasure

Among the patrons stood Ditton, who, on this occasion, had the pleasure of a shorter journey on his bicycle. For quite some time, this Joliet resident had been embarking on arduous 30-mile round trips to Bolingbrook, all for the sake of savoring Olive Garden’s renowned soup, salad, and breadsticks. As he patiently waited in line, he couldn’t contain his excitement. “It’s incredible,” Ditton exclaimed, his eyes gleaming. “That’s all I can say. Soup and salad – minestrone with the breadsticks.”

A Long-Awaited Dining Establishment

Though a mere 20 years old, Ditton hadn’t even been born when the first whispers of an Olive Garden in Joliet circulated among the residents. The city and developers conducted surveys, seeking input on the desired businesses for the community. Finally, the day had arrived, and Ditton, along with many others, could hardly contain their jubilation.

Sebastian Escudero (left) of Lockport and friend Rene Villanueva of Crest Hill arrived early Monday morning to be the first two customers at the Olive Garden restaurant that opened in Joliet on April 10, 2023.
Sebastian Escudero (left) of Lockport and friend Rene Villanueva of Crest Hill arrived early Monday morning to be the first two customers at the Olive Garden restaurant that opened in Joliet. (Bob Okon)

Dreams Realized and Stories Shared

Jon Linneman, the general manager overseeing Olive Garden’s Joliet-Plainfield location, understands the extent of this anticipation all too well. Born and raised in Plainfield, Linneman now calls Joliet his home. Having served as the general manager at the Olive Garden in Bolingbrook for nine years, he boasts two decades of experience within the restaurant chain. “For about 15 years, I’ve been hearing about it,” Linneman shared, reminiscing about the countless times people would inquire if every new establishment was, indeed, an Olive Garden.

At long last, their dreams have been fulfilled.

Location and Address, Uniquely Combined

Situated at 16337 S. Boulevard Place, this Olive Garden restaurant is technically located in Plainfield based on the postal address. Yet, it falls within Joliet’s city limits. Additionally, it is the second establishment to open within The Boulevard, a development that straddles both Joliet and Plainfield. Notably, the Plainfield section welcomed Costco to its ranks in November 2020.

Embracing the Unexpected

Rene Villaneuva, a resident of Crest Hill, expressed his surprise at the relatively small turnout for the grand opening. Having arrived before 7 a.m., he had the distinction of being the first in line. “It’s all about the Alfredo,” Villaneueva confessed when asked about his unwavering cravings for Olive Garden’s delectable fare. “That’s the selling point.”

Booths offering more seclusion and privacy is one of the features of the Olive Garden Restaurant that opened Monday in Joliet. April 10, 2023.
Booths offering more seclusion and privacy are one of the features of the Olive Garden Restaurant that opened Monday in Joliet. (Bob Okon)

Drawing Patrons from Near and Far

Surprisingly, the queue of enthusiastic patrons in the opening hours comprised not only Joliet residents but also visitors from Plainfield, Shorewood, Lockport, and Braidwood. Clearly, the allure of an Olive Garden closer to home resonated with many. “I love the ambience, and the staff is always friendly,” remarked Andre Clement of Plainfield while awaiting the restaurant’s grand unveiling.

A Contemporary Twist

Compared to its regional counterparts, the Joliet-Plainfield Olive Garden boasts a distinctive atmosphere. This establishment reflects a modern architectural style, which has been in circulation for a mere year. During the friends-and-family soft launch last week, patrons were quick to notice the restaurant’s divergent aesthetic. Linneman shared their observations: “They say this doesn’t look like any Olive Garden they’ve ever been in. It looks more contemporary. They adore the wine walls and the wine displays in the bar area.”

The restaurant also boasts a stunning solarium with a soaring ceiling, a testament to the building’s height. Countless inquiries regarding a potential second floor have flooded Linneman’s ears, though he clarifies that none exists. The solarium, adorned with towering glass windows, invites natural light to dance within its confines. Additionally, at night, the picturesque scenery outside creates a truly enchanting ambiance.

Other remarkable features within the restaurant include enclosed booths, providing a private and intimate dining experience. Furthermore, a separate carry-out area, complete with its own entrance, caters to patrons on the go.

Close Quarters and Cherished Moments

Above all else, the most enticing aspect of this new Olive Garden is its convenient location. Denice Hlavcik of Shorewood, brimming with excitement, revealed, “I’ve been waiting forever for one to open here. It’s so nice and close.”

With warm hearts and empty stomachs, the people of Joliet finally have their Olive Garden, a place where friends and family will gather, savoring cherished moments and indulging in the flavors that bring them joy.

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