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Marilyn Hagerty Thinks Times Was Too Hard on Guy Fieri

Famed Olive Garden Reviewer Says Review Was Overly Negative

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Marilyn Hagerty
Marilyn Hagerty

In the world of viral content, it's cats, not critiques of dining establishments, that win the most views and likes.

Yet not once, but twice in the course of this year, a restaurant review broke through the din of articles into the social mediasphere, racking up views and any number of TV news segments to the topic.

The most recent hit was a piece by the New York Times's Pete Wells eviscerating Guy's American Kitchen and Bar, a new Times Square spot opened by Food Network celebrity Guy Fieri. On Facebook and Twitter, the piece earned applause for its savaging of Mr. Fieri's "Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders" and burger with "Donkey Sauce." Things got so bad, Mr. Fieri made a "Today" show appearance to defend his establishment.

Several months prior, a piece by 85-year-old Marilyn Hagerty, a food writer for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota, went viral for the opposite reason. Unfazed by the elitist tones most her peers employ in assessing white-linen restaurants, Ms. Hagerty went to a local outpost of chain restaurant Olive Garden and gave an earnest, exceedingly polite review. It so delighted Americans that millions swarmed to the newspaper's site.

So what did Ms. Hagerty think of the most recent restaurant-review sensation? Here's what she said via email when we asked if she'd seen Mr. Wells' column and what she thought of it.

Hello Rupal ... Someone else sent me the review you are talking about and I read it over quickly when I got home last night from New York and the Anderson Cooper show. I wondered why a person would want to write a negative piece like that . What is the point? I try to give my readers an idea of what the restaurant is like, its signature items ... I like to describe the place and give a feel of being there ... My readers like to know what it costs ... I try to present some pluses and minuses. I guess I don't understand the reason for writing a completely negative piece. Why bother? --Marilyn Hagerty

Indeed, it's hard to not feel like it was a cheap shot for the New York Times to do a scathing review of a restaurant smack-dab in tourist haven Times Square that most New Yorkers wouldn't think of patronizing anyway. (Though the ad-sales team of The New York Times was more than happy to wine-and-dine clients there at a big shindig just yesterday, as reported by The Braiser.)

Ms. Hagerty in a follow-up note today said she didn't think the review was damning for Mr. Fieri: "I have heard it said that any publicity is good publicity and have found in my years in journalism that it is somewhat true! So if the vicious review turns people away, it might also attract the curious."

Asked if she'd consider stopping in Guy's restaurant the next time she's in town to offer a more balanced view, she said she it was beyond her jurisdiction.

"New York is out of my range," she wrote. "I just get around as much as I can and try to keep my columns readable and hope to have some appeal to readers."

Just some appeal is an understatement for Ms. Hagerty, who's earned thousands of fans in the wake of her Olive Garden review. Among them was CNN's Anderson Cooper. When she taped his show this week, he called her his "favorite food critic of all time" and presented her a Mediterranean cruise from sponsor Celebrity Cruises. Hopefully the second time is a charm; he tried to give her one before, but concerns over a bad tooth kept her home.

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