Pasta Lovers Trattoria was Jeno Paulucci’s bid to steal some of Olive Garden’s thunder, though it barely caused a rumble.
Paulucci had made his fortune in the Chun King line of frozen Chinese-esque foods, including pizza rolls, and also with his frozen Jeno’s Pizza. He used some of his wealth to develop the community of Heathrow.
And then he turned his sights on restaurants, opening Pasta Lovers in Heathrow in late 1989.
Actually, the Heathrow restaurant was the third – two others opened first in New York, and Paulucci had told me at the time that he got the inspiration for Pasta Lovers from a restaurant near his Essex House apartment in Manhattan.
Back then, Olive Garden was still owned by General Mills and was the only national non-pizza Italian chain. Just think about that for a minute. The owner of Chili’s had just acquired a San Antonio, Tex., restaurant called Romano’s Macaroni Grill and was set to expand it. Paulucci thought his Pasta Lovers Trattoria would earn a big share of the market.
Although there were eventually three Central Florida Pasta Lovers Trattorie, they were pretty much gone by the mid nineties. The Heathrow restaurant was renamed Luigino’s Pasta Lovers and Steakhouse (Luigino being Paulucci’s full first name) and actually had two sides to the restaurant – you could order the pricier steaks in the pasta side of the restaurant but you couldn’t order off of the pasta menu on the steakhouse side. It was odd.
That didn’t last either.
One of the original New York Pasta Lovers still exists in New York, in the Radio City Apartments on W. 49th Street.