Marco’s Ristorante at 12 Mollison Way is a longtime favorite Italian restaurant in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — With the impending opening of the area’s first Olive Garden in Auburn, which is still a few months away, the Sun Journal asked people a simple question: Olive Garden or traditional local Italian restaurants? What are your thoughts?

We opened the question to comments for 24 hours on social media and we received nearly 90 responses. There were a few responses that did not address the question, or offer any opinion on which one they prefer. We also asked four restaurant owners for their comments.

Grazi to Go in Lisbon is included in the results, even though it is not a traditional, sit-down restaurant like its predecessor, Graziano’s Casa Mia Restaurant. Enough people voted for Grazi to earn it a spot in the list. Owner Mary Graziano Richard acknowledged all things are not equal, commenting, “It is hard to compare sit-down to takeout equally.”

The Olive Garden restaurant is under construction at 649 Turner St., the site of the now razed Ruby Tuesday, in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Olive Garden garnered the most votes at 19. The comments on Olive Garden run the gamut, everything from “Soup, salad and breadsticks, yummm,” to “Can’t wait for it to open in Auburn.”

Gary S. Bell gets the diplomacy award when he wrote, “It’s your choice where to go. It’s just another option. Enjoy wherever you eat.”

A lot of Olive Garden fans like the trifecta combination of soup, salad and bread sticks, and at least one person wrote he has been waiting for years for Olive Garden. Larry Tardiff, your ship is about to come in!


Tim Coombs gets the pragmatist award for his lengthy and thoughtful comment, which reads in part: “Love it or hate it, the business model is solid, their track record is one of being successful in markets like ours. They will do very well here.”

The second largest number of votes fell into the “other” category with 16. Most of the people in this category did not mention a favorite restaurant by name, but mostly favored local restaurants in general, like this comment from Daniel T. Whalen: “Olive Garden is corporate chain restaurant food. It’s OK, but definitely not authentic Italian food.”

There was this from Naveed Hemati: “Local places ALWAYS put more heart and soul into their food, their workers, and the overall handling of business than chain restaurants do. Each one has an air of individuality to it that Olive Garden just cannot compare to.”

There was also this comment from Larry Turbide: “Olive Garden is the McDonald’s of Italian food.” Four people liked the comment.

Locals were asked to share their views on local Italian eateries. Among the favorites, DaVinci’s Eatery. Here, server Madeline Timberlake carries garlic knots in July 2020 to customers dining in DaVinci’s outdoor area at 150 Mill St. in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

There were also replies including “Definitely local” and “Keep small business owners in business. Support local restaurants.”

Grayling E. Cunningham wrote: “I prefer locally owned, freshly made-to-order food. Not prefab, chain restaurants, with too much garlic salt.” It’s a comment that drew nine likes and three hearts.


Roland Raubeson didn’t seem impressed with any of the choices, writing: “There are no really good Italian restaurants in the Lewiston-Auburn area sorry to say. Olive Garden does not even come close to a traditional Italian restaurant, let’s be honest.”

In the opposite corner was Diane Gilpatric, writing: “Both. I love Italian food no matter who prepares it!”

The local favorites included DaVinci’s Eatery, Grazi to Go, Luiggi’s Pizzeria and Marco’s Ristorante. DaVinci’s Eatery and Marco’s edged out Grazi with plenty of enthusiastic endorsements, including “DaVinci’s is the absolute best!” and “Marco’s gets my vote.”

Some of the comments offer some insight the restaurants might want to be aware of, though. For DaVinci’s, several readers pointed to the menu, including this comment from April Marie Smith: “I would choose Olive Garden over DaVinci’s simply because DaVinci’s menu was very limited and expensive.”

Katrina Freedom put a lot of thought and heart into her comment, writing: “Our first date nearly 19 years ago was at DaVinci’s. Our rehearsal dinner was at DaVinci’s 14 years ago. We were loyal until the food changed, service declined, and menu shrunk . . . and the waitress took away my black card. Now I’m done. Can make it all better, for less, at home.”


Melissa Shain makes the point that Marco’s service is not what it could be and several other people agreed with her: “Marco’s has great food but the service is awful and it’s always freezing in there. DaVinci’s food has definitely gone down hill over the years. I’m personally looking forward to Olive Garden.”

The owner of Grazi to Go responded to our request for comment, writing, “I have kept the recipes the same as we had at the restaurant and have pride in trying to always keep my ingredients consistent.”

Richard said there is an upside to her to-go business model and it seems her customers agree. “Trying to make meals easier for busy families to enjoy. Even to not have to cook, so they are able to sit and enjoy themselves without all of the worry. Then hearing how happy they were to not have the stress of preparing, cooking and then cleaning everything up. Sure can make the holidays so much more enjoyable.”

She also has a message that everyone can embrace. “I wish for success for all businesses during these tough times we have been going through. Competition is tough out there.”

A spokesperson for Darden Restaurants, the owner of Olive Garden, said the company had no comment on the local reactions, while the owners of DaVinci’s and Marco’s did not respond to requests for comment.

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