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Take a sneak peek inside the Vineland Olive Garden before it opens. The restaurant will be the first in the state to offer carside to-go service. Adam Monacelli, Vineland Daily Journal

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VINELAND - The hype surrounding the arrival of Vineland's Olive Garden is not lost on general manager Janine Sutedja. 

"There is a lot of buzz in the community," Sutedja told The Daily Journal during a visit to the restaurant Friday morning. "I've heard there is talk of people wanting to be the first guests here." 

Patrons will get that chance Monday when Olive Garden officially opens its doors at 11 a.m., ending close to a decade's worth of chatter about bringing the Italian eatery to Vineland.  

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Dozens of the restaurant's 157-person staff were scurrying about Friday preparing for a weekend-long "friends and family" soft opening designed to let employees work out any kinks that come along with a new business. 

Sutedja said when the restaurant first started making hires, more than 1,500 people had applied for jobs at the restaurant. That number had eclipsed 2,500 as of this week. 

"It was amazing to come to this area and do interviews, and when I offered people jobs we had people crying," Sutedja said. "The staff seems so excited to be a part of Olive Garden. I expected a great staff, but I didn't expect this. It's just amazing." 

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Folks were still coming through the door Friday inquiring about positions at Olive Garden. Sutedja said the restaurant could add workers if business goes well.  

Guests will be treated to a state-of-the-art restaurant thanks to new construction. 

The bar area has a more open layout compared to other Olive Gardens and takes up the entire center portion of the restaurant. 

Dining rooms are located on both sides of the space upon entering. The restaurant can accommodate around 270 guests. 

"It's a beautiful restaurant with a very warm, family-friendly atmosphere," Sutedja said. 

The Vineland Olive Garden will be the first in the state to feature carside to-go service and also will offer offsite event catering, according to the general manager. 

City officials are pleased to see another business opening on the 23-acre South Delsea Drive site once home to Kmart directly across the street from Cumberland Mall.

The restaurant is part of a $13 million redevelopment plan headed by furniture giant Raymour & Flanigan, which opened just behind the Olive Garden on Feb. 2. 

"Olive Garden is a wonderful family restaurant and we are very happy to have them in Vineland," Mayor Anthony Fanucci said. "Not only is this restaurant bringing delicious food, they are providing many new jobs for local residents. 

"This is another sign of the positive momentum that is taking place throughout the city," Fanucci continued. "We are confident that as more and more company executives and small business owners see an environment in Vineland that is conducive to growth, they will want to become a part of it as well."

Olive Garden will do more than just offer food to its guests. 

The restaurant has already started giving back to Cumberland County through its Harvest program, which takes prepared surplus food and donates it to local organizations. 

Sutedja said the Vineland location is working with the M25 Initiative out of Bridgeton, which helps the homeless. She added proceeds from the weekend's "Friends and Family" event would benefit a local Boys & Girls Club of America. 

The restaurant is expecting a busy opening highlighted by the fact that several people have approached the Olive Garden in hopes that it was already open. 

Olive Garden does take reservations, but Sutedja said the Vineland location would wait six months before starting that practice due to the anticipated demand. 

"We can't wait to meet the guests," Sutedja said. "The people who've tried to come in early have been so warm and welcoming and supportive, so we're really anxious to get started." 

Anthony V. Coppola: @AVCoppola; 856-563-5258; acoppola@gannettnj.com 

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