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Cheddar Bay Biscuits. Endless Shrimp. Admiral’s Feast. Few sit-down chain restaurants are better known for their signature menu items than Red Lobster. But did you know that it’s the birthplace of one dish that’s become a popular menu item at bars and restaurants across the country? Read on for nine things you probably didn’t know about Red Lobster.
The first Red Lobster opened on January 18, 1968, when friends Bill Darden and Charley Woodsby turned on the lights at their new seafood restaurant in Lakeland, Florida. It’s no coincidence that Lakeland is the innermost city in Florida; the concept was developed to see if a seafood restaurant could succeed far from the coast. It was a hit with both diners and critics, and by 1970 there were three locations in the Sunshine State (all turning a profit) and two more under construction. Darden knew that if his chain were going to expand further, however, he would need to sell it.
Later that year, he sold the company to General Mills, who kept Darden on board as an executive while they overhauled the company, transforming it from a fast food-style restaurant to a sit-down casual-dining restaurant while opening nearly 400 locations by 1985. In 1982, General Mills launched another chain restaurant that you might have heard of, Olive Garden, and an ill-fated chain called China Coast joined the trifecta before the trio was spun off by General Mills to shareholders under a brand new company called Darden Restaurants. Red Lobster remained a subsidiary of Darden until May 2014, when it was sold to new owners Golden Gate Capital for $2.1 billion.
While Red Lobster has certainly faced its ups and downs, it remains one of the most popular casual chains in America, and is constantly working to reinvent itself and stay ahead of the curve. Healthier menu items, new promotions, and redesigns are a given, and its new owners seem committed to making sure that it remains a part of the American dining landscape for years to come. Read on for nine things you probably didn’t know about this all-American chain.
Founder Bill Darden Opened His First Restaurant When He Was 19
Darden was an entrepreneur from a very early age: He opened his very first restaurant, the Green Frog, in Waycross, Georgia, in 1938, at age 19.
Its First Motto Was “Harbor for Seafood Lovers”
The chain’s trademark slogan, “For the seafood lover in you,” didn’t roll out until 1979.