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History of Red Lobster

Founder Bill Darden tested his entrepreneurial skills at the ripe old age of 19. That was when he opened a restaurant concept of a different color called The Green Frog. From the very beginning, Bill Darden’s restaurants focused on quality and service. He also thought there’d be great consumer appeal for a restaurant that specialized in seafood. Darden and his team opened Red Lobster in Lakeland, Fla., in 1968. One member of the first restaurant’s management team is our former Chairman and CEO, Joe Lee.

By the early 1970s, Red Lobster expanded throughout the Southeast, establishing them as the leader not only in chain seafood restaurants but in all of casual dining. “Our biggest competition back then was the kitchen stove,” remembers former CEO, Joe Lee. But that didn’t stop the Red Lobster crew from innovating in the kitchen, introducing much of the country to calamari, snow crab and key lime pie, not to mention inventing popcorn shrimp.

By the late 1970s and early 1980s, Red Lobster grew to 350 restaurants strong. And in 1995, after decades of success and growth, Red Lobster (along with the Olive Garden and later Bahama Breeze) was spun into Darden Restaurants, headed by former CEO Joe Lee.

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