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Olive Garden is readying a line of breadstick sandwiches, chairman says

Olive Garden is about to introduce sandwiches built on its signature breadsticks, according to Jeff Smith, chairman of the Italian chain’s parent company, Darden Restaurants.

Smith, who is also the CEO and CIO of the hedge fund Starboard Value, revealed the plan on the television program Wall Street Week. He was responding to questions about his perception today of Olive Garden’s breadsticks, which became a focus of Starboard’s successful effort last year to wrest control of Darden from its sitting directors. All 12 members of the board were replaced by Starboard’s nominees, leading to a significant change in Darden’s direction.

At the time, Starboard criticized Darden for such nuts-and-bolts aspects of Olive Garden’s operations as serving cold breadsticks, doling them out too generously and failing to salt the water used to boil the chain’s pastas.  The soft breadsticks, which are given to customers after they’re seated, became a symbol of what needed to be fixed at the Italian chain.

“It might surprise people, but I actually like the breadsticks,” Smith said on Wall Street Week. “What we were talking about was the loss of discipline at Darden.”

One of the breadstick sandwiches, he said, would be a chicken parmigiana version.

Smith did not divulge additional details.

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