Meet the nation’s hottest food reviewer

What does 80-something Grand Forks Herald veteran Marilyn Hagerty think about her Olive Garden review going viral?

“She’s tickled pink,” says publisher Mike Jacobs.

Everyone from Gawker to Fark to Boing Boing has noticed Hagerty’s story on the just-opened Olive Garden, which she calls “the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks.”

Marilyn Hagerty: The nation's hottest food critic

Hagerty tells her paper: “I don’t get it. I’ve been doing this for 30-40 years. Why all of a sudden now?” (I couldn’t get her on the phone this afternoon, but interviews she did with the Village Voice and City Pages are linked below.)

Hagerty, who is in her mid-80s, joined the Grand Forks Herald in the 1950s. (The paper’s personnel records were destroyed in the 1997 flood, so Jacobs isn’t sure of the year.)

“In the old days, her title was society editor and she wrote about comings and goings in town and she continues to do that” even though she officially retired about 20 years ago.

When Hagerty’s husband died of a stroke during the flood, she took over his column, “That Reminds Me,” and she now has three columns at the paper, says Jacobs. (“Her output at 85 in retirement is at least equivalent to some of the youngsters on the staff.”)

Her Eatbeat column has run on the Wednesday food cover for decades, says the publisher, “and any editor who killed that column would — well, that would be a crazy, crazy thing to do.”

Jacobs points out that Hagerty isn’t really a restaurant critic.

“She generally visits new eating places as they develop in the city. It’s not her goal to criticize the food or the service or the decor. It’s more her mission to let people know the place is there, what it’s going to cost them to go there and what kind of experience they’re going to have.” (She occasionally mentions what kind of people frequent a place. Her review of The Newsroom restaurant in Minneapolis noted that “the clientele was eclectic” and included “some swishy” types.)

Jacobs says the Olive Garden write-up in Wednesday’s paper was “a classic Marilyn Hagerty restaurant item” but “it did not occur to me when I read it that it would get the attention of Jim Romenesko and others around the country.”

“We have gotten probably close to 100,000 additional hits on our site just in the few hours since this thing has gone viral, so we’re very happy about it.”

The publisher says Hagerty has “both a devoted following of people who love her stuff” and some readers who think her work is a bit too quaint.

Longtime subscribers know how to decipher Hagerty’s reviews, says Jacobs.

“If she tells you about the parking lot, you probably don’t want to eat the food. That’s her way of being ‘North Dakota Nice.'”

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How is the Olive Garden doing after being mentioned by Hagerty?

“We’ve been busy,” says manager Amanda, who asked her last name not be used. “We haven’t slowed down since opening” on January 23, so it’s difficult to say if Wednesday’s story brought in customers.

Amanda says Hagerty visited the Olive Garden about a week ago for her column “research,” asked a few questions about the place and mentioned that “everything went well” with her meal.

The manager has known Hagerty for several years. “I used to manage the Red Lobster here, and she used to come in all the time.”

Amanda, who hasn’t gotten around to reading Wednesday’s Olive Garden review, says she knows that Hagerty will call it like it is if she needs to.

“I know that if something goes wrong, she’ll put it in there.”

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Sam Burrish, a Facebook friend from Sioux City, writes on my wall: “The arrival of Olive Garden also shook up Sioux City, Iowa. Readers might also enjoy this 2006 Sioux City Journal review that went viral at the time.”

* Marilyn Hagerty talks to the Village Voice
* She also did an interview with City Pages in the Twin Cities

Comments

comments

2 comments
  1. Liz said:

    She was serving her readership, and I guess her conversational, down-to-earth style and her focus on something that was a big deal in her area (but not to folks who see it as backwards and simple-minded) provided fodder for ridicule. But it just reminded me of the kind of stories and areas so many of us in journalism (and perhaps the very people being snarky now) started out covering — the small town, the town council, the spat between the mayor and the zoning board official, the fight over a McDonald’s wanting to open up in a town that didn’t want it. Many of us — with dreams of being foreign correspondents someday or a national bureau chief for a major paper — rolled our eyes when we did these stories and listened to people go on and on about things we thought trivial. But we were made to do these stories, and treat them as if they were hugely important, because they were to the people who read them.

  2. MARGE said:

    LOVE THE POSITIVE REVIEW… GET IT MARILYN!