The Unexpected Company Responsible For Creating Olive Garden

Everyone knows that when you're at Olive Garden, you're family, but just who is Olive Garden's family? Among the many unexpected Olive Garden facts that most people don't know about the Italian American eatery is that the chain was originally created by General Mills.

General Mills is an enormous company, but one that is mostly centered around the production of prepared foods and cereals for sale at grocery stores. Some of its top brands include Betty Crocker, Bisquick, and Cheerios, among many, many others.

So, just why did it open a restaurant? General Mills began its life when five actual flour milling companies were incorporated together in 1928, and most of its products reflect that. While it managed to grow within the flour, baking supply, and cereal sector (even through the Great Depression), there was a brief time in the company's history when it started to diversify its portfolio, and Olive Garden was a big part of that.

Why did General Mills create Olive Garden?

Despite weathering some of the greatest global challenges of the last century, General Mills started to change its business practices in the decades following the end of the Second World War.

In the 1960s, it started to sell off less profitable flour mills and started exploring other markets, like children's toys, games, and even fashion, in addition to its more profitable foods. The following decade, it would start to show interest in acquiring restaurants. In 1970, it acquired the young Red Lobster, and then in 1980, it purchased the natural food store and restaurant Good Earth.

The first Olive Garden was created in Orlando in 1982 as the first-ever original-concept restaurant created by General Mills. The original Olive Garden location was designed to look like a Tuscan farmhouse despite its subtropical locale. The concept was an immediate success. In just seven years, it would grow to 145 locations and become the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the country.

Who owns Olive Garden now?

Today, Olive Garden is owned by Darden Restaurants, which is a family of restaurants including Longhorn Steakhouse and The Capital Grille, among others. General Mills never technically sold Olive Garden, either, because Darden was created by General Mills.

Around 1995, General Mills wanted to narrow its focus back to the products it was originally known for. So its successful restaurant division was spun off into its own company — Darden. That company now owns more than 1,800 restaurants, with 867 of those being the many Olive Gardens scattered across the United States.

While General Mills is a company that isn't often associated with Olive Garden, it's fitting that the restaurant was started by a flour and baking supply company considering all of the unlimited breadsticks we've eaten throughout the years. It made sure that the restaurant was offering those unlimited breadsticks — along with soups and salad — to symbolize the "spirit of Italian generosity" from day one, according to Thrillist, and we couldn't be more grateful.