Olive Garden in Big Rapids? Here’s how it would happen

BIG RAPIDS – The announcement of a new chain restaurant or the opening of a fast food joint in Big Rapids can inspire many.

But how do you get these facilities to open new locations in the city?

Here’s what we found …


Big Rapids officials recently entered into a listing agreement with REMAX / Together real estate agent Joe McNally to market and sell the former Hanchett property on North State Street. The property was once the site of a manufacturing company, but the building was demolished after it was closed and the property has been vacant for years.

The pioneer covered the agreement and shared a story on his Facebook page. From there, readers expressed what they wanted to see on the city’s vacant lot.

Some of the most common responses were: Chik-fil-A, Olive Garden, a new skate park and “anything but a pot shop”.

The pioneer reached out to Big Rapids City Administrator Mark Gifford for more information on how new chain restaurants are opening in the city, particularly in Big Rapids.

“I would like an olive garden here,” said Gifford to the pioneer.

“I will do everything I can to achieve this. We just don’t know how to do that, ”he added.

When chain restaurants or businesses open new locations, the property is usually not owned by the city, Gifford explained, which doesn’t give city officials much voice.

“These choices (for opening new restaurants) are not those of the local government – other than general zoning restrictions that say you can have a fast food restaurant,” he said.

“One day they show”

Prior to the arrival of Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesday’s, for example, Gifford said city officials initially didn’t reach out to the companies for several reasons.

“Nobody knows who to talk to,” said Gifford. “… You can’t find out who these things belong to (chain stores). It’s an LLC … who are you talking to? “

“It’s difficult to find a decision maker on this stuff because we don’t know who they are,” he added.

In previous experiences, Gifford said that many chain restaurants have an algorithm that they are looking for. What this algorithm is is still unclear, he said.

“What happens in the end is that one day they show up and say, ‘We want to build Ruby Tuesday,'” said Gifford. “Nobody asked her. They chose us because we met for reasons what they were looking for. “

In February, Marshall’s announced plans to open a new location in Big Rapids. The store is expected to open in September.

“I was asked, ‘Who made Marshall come here?’ I told them, ‘Marshall wanted to be here,’ “he said.” The decisions are made outside of our control. “

Meagan Bernstein, spokesman for Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden, provided the pioneer with a copy of the company’s location selection criteria.

When choosing a new location, Olive Garden looks for the criteria: a population trading zone with at least 100,000 residents and prime regional locations that have minimal impact on existing locations.

The preferred location must be approximately 2 acres and accommodate up to 145 parking spaces.


The city of Big Rapids has achieved success in attracting businesses through economic development efforts.

Two examples are Serendipity owners in Cadillac who are opening a facility in Big Rapids and Connie Freiberg, owner of Blue Cow, who are expanding their business and opening Blue Fish in Manistee.

“It can work. I’ve seen it work best when it comes to small, privately owned local businesses, ”said Gifford. “You could open a different version of yourself in a different community.”