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Granny Goes Viral: Marilyn Hagerty’s unpretentious review of the Grand Forks, N.D., Olive Garden has become quite the Internet sensation. But Hagerty is no newspaper novice: The 85-year-old Grand Forks Herald columnist (and grandmother of eight) has been writing and editing for state papers for 65 years. She currently writes five articles a week for the Grand Forks Herald, including restaurant reviews and interviews with local personalities. There’s even a book of her old columns for sale on Amazon.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Hagerty’s son, James, notes:

Some people pursue celebrity. Others stumble into it as they are rushing off to bridge club. My 85-year-old mom … is in the latter category. When she wrote a review of the new Olive Garden restaurant in Grand Forks, N.D., last week, she wasn’t expecting anyone other than her thousands of loyal readers in North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota to take note. She didn’t worry about how her story would play on Gawker, partly because she had never heard of Gawker.

But last week, Gawker—along with bunches of other bloggers and Internet denizens—heard of Marilyn Hagerty, after coming across the Olive Garden review where she described the décor as “Tuscan farmhouse style” and noted the “attractive” bar and “generous” portions.

Part of the joke, of course, comes from everyone assuming Hagerty isn’t in on it. Of course an 85-year-old grandma doesn’t get that it’s not cool or culturally savvy to earnestly review a suburban chain restaurant, right? But assume that, and the joke’s on you. Hagerty—who has previously reviewed local hospital cafeteria food—understands why some folks don’t feel the Olive Garden a worthy target of food reviewers. She just doesn’t care. She told one interviewer:

I don’t have time to sit here and twit over whether some self-styled food expert likes, or does not like, my column.”

Son James also explains that “mom has her own style of reviewing restaurants: She doesn’t like to say anything bad about the food. Her regular readers read between the lines. If she writes more about the décor than the food, you might want to eat somewhere else.”

Hagerty is currently on a whirlwind tour of New York, appearing on the Today show and Good Morning America. In her most recent column, written in the form of a letter to her sister Shirley, she says: “Not even in my wildest dreams could I fathom all that has happened in the past week.”

Thursday Quick Hits: 

  • ‘Nest Half Full’ blogger Joni Hersch confesses: At a “get-together last month with the women who were my college roommate … The four of us suddenly stopped our long conversation about Max, Sophie and Lola to laugh. It had happened, we realized. We had left our old topics of men and kids in the dust and were now spending time talking about our dogs.”


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