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The Truth About Red Lobster

In the late 1960's, a couple of restaurant moguls put their heads together and came up

with a brilliant idea: affordable, fresh lobster for everyone!

Nearly 50 years later, Red Lobster is still going strong.

But how much do you really know about your favorite place to get butter all over your

shirt?

Here's a look at the truth about Red Lobster.

"Red Lobster for the seafood lover in you."

Humble beginnings

The success of Red Lobster owes itself to the vision of Bill Darden and Charley Woodsby.

In 1963, Darden, who was just 19 years old when he opened his first restaurant, teamed

up with Woodsby to buy a popular joint in Orlando called Gary's Duck Inn, which was

famous for its seafood.

Gary's Duck Inn became such a massive success for them that they decided to take the basic

premise of fresh lobster and shrimp and use it to start a second restaurant in Lakeland,

Florida.

In 1968, that new restaurant opened under the name Red Lobster.

Just two years later, they had expanded to five locations across the south.

The success of the chain caught the eye of General Mills, who bought out the whole operation

in 1970.

Massive expansion

Following the acquisition by General Mills, Red Lobster rapidly expanded across the country,

and eventually the world.

By 2013, it boasted 705 locations worldwide, and by 2016 those international locations

included restaurants in Canada, Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil, Japan, Malaysia, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi

Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Red hot

Considering the chain is nearly five decades old, you might think that the clientele skews

towards the grey hair crowd.

But in fact, Red Lobster is enjoying renewed popularity with the youth of America, with

millennials between the ages of 18 and 24 voting it their number one casual dining restaurant

in a recent Nation's Restaurant News survey.

One unexpected reason for that popularity surge?

Beyoncé.

Her hit song "Formation," which she performed during Super Bowl 50, features Mrs. Carter

singing about Red Lobster.

Sales rose 33 percent immediately after Red Lobster got the free advertising from the

biggest album of the year.

Never underestimate the power of the Bey-Hive.

"When he f--- me good, I take his ass to Red Lobster, cause I slay"

"When he f--- me good, I take his ass to Red Lobster, 'cause I slay"

Controversy and lawsuits

Not everything is coming up roses for Red Lobster, though.

Over the last decade, the company has been involved in some high profile controversies,

most famously in 2013, when a server at a Tennessee location accused a patron of writing

a racist message on the receipt in place of a tip.

The diner then counter-sued for defamation, claiming he was the victim of a hoax.

Red Lobster was found to not be at fault, and the waitress walked away with almost $11,000

in tips from a fundraising effort set up in her name.

In a separate incident, parent company Darden Restaurants - which is named for Red Lobster

founder Bill Darden - ended up paying tens of thousands of dollars in damages and fines

after the government investigated allegations of sexual harassment and underpayment of staff.

And the company got another black eye in 2016 when an Inside Edition story revealed that

some of their lobster bisque was actually not lobster at all.

"according to the lab, the lobster in one sample was actually langostino.

Two others had a combination of langostino and lobster.

This is a langostino, and it looks nothing like a lobster."

A langostino is more closely related to a hermit crab than a lobster, so….

Bleah.

Still going strong

Considering Red Lobster was the foundational piece in the creation of Darden Restaurants,

you'd think they would be protective about the brand.

However, you'd be wrong, because in 2014, Darden Restaurants actually sold off Red Lobster

to Golden Gate Capital for $2.1 billion dollars.

Part of the reason they wanted out was the expense involved in getting fresh seafood,

especially since prices can fluctuate wildly depending on supply and demand.

In 2016, Golden Gate sold a minority stake in the company to seafood distributor Thai

Union Group, which will lower those costs by providing product in house.

So will that lower the quality of the food at Red Lobster?

Probably not.

Though you've likely never heard of Thai Union Group, they already own a brand you might

be familiar with: Chicken of the Sea.

And you know what that means: Jessica Simpson must love Red Lobster now.

"Why is it called Chicken… by the sea or in the sea?"

"Chicken Of The Sea is the brand."

"Ohhh."

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