The Old Spaghetti Factory (OSF) distinguishes itself by offering full meals at affordable prices, rather than individually pricing each item: salad, entree, dessert and endless beverage and bread. As the name implies, pasta dominates the menu, with smaller lunch portions offered until 4:00 p.m. at a lower price.
The only difference between OSF in Canada and the U.S. are the owners. With most locations built inside former warehouses, antiques are everywhere.
The menu has changed little over the years since the first location opened in Portland in 1969. The same The Manager’s Favourite that I ordered more than 40 years ago, is, more often than not, what I still order today: Spaghetti with two sauces of your choice. The only difference is the word Rich: about 20 years ago, the Spicy Meat Sauce was removed from the menu, and the Rich Meat Sauce became simply Meat Sauce. I always order Mushroom and Meat Sauce. Likewise, my salad always comes with Blue Cheese dressing.
I was hired on probation at CHQM on June 15, 1971, which meant my first two weeks were unpaid, so my Father insisted that I continue working for him at the same time: in the basement of Canada’s original location of The Old Spaghetti Factory (OSF) at 53 Water Street in Vancouver’s Gastown. It was a renovated warehouse, but OSF only needed half of the basement for storage, so rented out the other half to a business associate of my Father’s. I did not know it then but working in OSF’s own half of that basement was a very young Bruce McBride, who I often see today in his role as General Manager of the OSF’s West Edmonton Mall location.
I actually never stepped inside, let alone ate at, The Old Spaghetti Factory until I moved to Edmonton to work at the University of Alberta in January 1975. My boss, who later went on to found Culture Vulture magazine, gave me a list of recommended restaurants that included Edmonton’s original Old Spaghetti Factory, located Downtown in The Boardwalk. I still eat there today, when I can afford the parking.
The food has changed only slightly over the years. The free sourdough bread keeps appearing and disappearing, but the very small cubes of dried fruit have yet to reappear in the spumoni ice cream that is included with every meal.
Attending a convention in Spokane, I visited my U.S. Old Spaghetti Factory in October 1975; it had opened the year before for Expo 74. OSF began in Portland in January 1969, opening soon after in Vancouver under separate Canadian ownership. On a road trip to San Diego in 1979, stopping overnight in Sacramento, there was an Old Spaghetti Factory. I have also visited locations in Toronto, Calgary and, yes, even back to the original Canadian location in Gastown.
On a trip to Honolulu in 1998, I was surprised to find that The Old Spaghetti Factory was the cheapest restaurant that we visited. The food was excellent and they still served sourdough bread.
In 2001, with my in-laws and a couple of young German relatives, The Old Spaghetti Factory in Calgary was the perfect spot to eat on the final leg of the usual Edmonton-Jasper-Lake Louise-Banff-Edmonton tour loop.