Bethany Clough

Olive Garden, Popolo’s Pizza, other new restaurants ready to open

A new Olive Garden in Fresno could look like this handout photo from the company. Construction has not started on the new location, slated to open in northwest Fresno.
A new Olive Garden in Fresno could look like this handout photo from the company. Construction has not started on the new location, slated to open in northwest Fresno. Special to The Bee

Olive Garden plans to open a second restaurant in the Fresno area and some other familiar names, like Popolo’s Pizza, are opening new locations.

The Olive Garden will open next spring in the Marketplace at El Paseo near Highway 99 and Herndon Avenue. Construction hasn’t started yet, but the restaurant will be built at the northeast corner of the shopping center, between Pieology and GameStop.

This is the second Olive Garden in the area, with the first on Shaw Avenue in Clovis. If you’ve ever driven past that location on a weekend night, you know it’s often packed inside, with people waiting to get in.

Since Olive Garden is so common – seriously, there are more than 800 of them nationwide – I probably don’t need to describe the basics to you.

One thing that may be different if you haven’t been to one in a while: tablets at the table. The 7-inch Android touchscreen tablets let customers browse the menu, play games, order drinks, appetizers and desserts and pay their bill. You can still order the old-fashioned way with a waiter or waitress, too.

Popolo’s Pizza

Popolo’s Pizza is about to make a comeback.

The restaurant that spent 31 years at Blackstone and Herndon avenues has been closed for months after major plumbing problems that involved gutting the floor down to the dirt. Coupled with the death of Popolo’s founder Gregory Greene, the family behind the restaurant has had a rough couple of months.

But the popular longtime restaurant has found a new home, and the family is planning some big changes. Popolo’s will reopen in June at Park Place, the shopping center at Palm and Nees avenues. It will take over the former Capo’s, which closed earlier this year.

The new space is bigger and will have a banquet room, a patio, an arcade and a bar serving beer and wine. Popolo’s will also continue to deliver pizza to the same area as its old location, plus new parts of town.

Another new restaurant headed for the same shopping center is KoJa Kitchen, a Korean fusion restaurant (waffle fries with Korean barbecued beef on top, anyone?) opening its first location outside the Bay Area. It will open next to Eureka! but likely not until the end of the year because of the work they’re doing inside the building.

Triangle Burger

Another familiar name getting ready to open a new spot is Triangle Drive In. The locally owned restaurant is taking over an empty Wendy’s restaurant at 4915 E. McKinley Ave. next to the KFC near Chestnut Avenue.

The restaurant has been in the works for about a year – slowed down by red tape and a theft of copper wires – and is scheduled to open in about three weeks with a grand opening in June.

It will have the same burgers, fries, shakes and retro decor as the other two Triangle Drive Ins – or Triangle Burgers, as some call it – in Fresno. It joins the original location at Belmont Avenue and Parkway Drive, and the one in the old Fosters Freeze at 753 E. Barstow Ave. near First Street.

Another one opened in Visalia Mall in December.

And, as owner Zahi Saleh notes, the newest location is near the airport for all those international travelers missing American cuisine.

“If you’re coming from overseas, the first thing you want to get is a burger,” he says.

Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen is sniffing around the Fresno area in hopes of opening several locations here – between five and seven restaurants in the Fresno/Clovis area and a total of 12 between Porterville and Madera.

Fresno has just one Dairy Queen – or DQ, as they say – in Manchester Center. (Dairy Queen is owned by mega investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway company.) But the ones it wants to open are a lot different than the one in Manchester.

The company is on an expansion kick with its DQ Grill & Chill model. These restaurants have a new modern look with expanded menus.

They still have the burgers and soft-serve cones that Dairy Queen is known for, but they also have what they call “DQ Bakes! artisan-style” sandwiches, including a chicken bruschetta sandwich served hot.

DQ Bakes! also includes “snack melts” such as grilled chicken, buffalo sauce, cheddar and ranch dressing wrapped up in a tortilla. And there are hot desserts, such as a fudge-stuffed cookie served with vanilla soft serve and chocolate sauce drizzled on top.

The restaurants are franchises, meaning someone must buy into the concept and pay a franchise fee, usually with a lot of other expenses. Dairy Queen’s required investment averages more than $1 million – not counting the cost of buying or renting land.

Typically, this is the point where I warn you to take the news about franchises with a grain of salt. Plenty of chains announce they have franchises available here, then we never hear from them again. (Remember how excited people got over the Tilted Kilt and The Melting Pot saying they were interested? It’s been two or three years, and they’re still not here.)

But DQ might be different.

Here’s why: Dairy Queen prefers companies that can open and run several DQ locations instead of just one person opening one location, says vice president of franchise development Jim Kerr. And those companies – we have several of them in town that own all kinds of restaurants – tend to be interested in Dairy Queen, he says.

Only time will tell. As always, I’ll keep you updated.

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough