Their mascot “Clawde” is only the beginning… Red Lobster’s menu is essentially a treasure trove of dishes that you can’t find anywhere else. Honestly—where would Bubba Gump Shrimp Company be without it? For all its ups and downs, this American seafood chain has been serving up —which is why we decided to look back at the company’s rich history. From the founder’s incredible rise, to its invention of a signature fried seafood staple, here are 13 things you didn’t know about Red Lobster:
13 Cool Facts About Red Lobster:
1. How owner Bill Darden started the Red Lobster:
Bill Darden was a newbie to the restaurant business starting his first restaurant at just 19.
He opened a small lunch counter named The Green Frog in 1937 and offered “service with a hop.” The business endeavor was the first of many, as Darden went on to acquire a handful of successful restaurant chains after several successful years with The Green Frog.
Darden grew further into restauranteering by purchasing other businesses throughout Georgia. He purchased rights to franchise Howard Johnson restaurants (which came with hotel accommodations), and in 1963, Darden bought Gary’s Duck Inn, a seafood restaurant that had a successful run in Orlando. By 1968, Darden had plans to start his own seafood kitchen, and the first Red Lobster restaurant was developed, opening its doors in Lakeland, Florida in 1968.
2. Talk about a legend:
Despite his success, Red Lobster wasn’t enough for Darden. In 1982, he opened up Olive Garden, thus creating an endless breadstick oasis that quickly gained fans across the country. Whether it was seafood or Italian, Darden obviously had a knack for selling food.
3. Naming the Red Lobster:
From The Green Frog to Red Lobster, it appears that Darden had something for colorful animals. But, apparently, the Red Lobster took some thought to name.
Darden’s wife, Mary, said the name just popped up during a brainstorming session. “Red means it’s fresh—that it’s cooked exactly the way it should be cooked. So when you put those two names together, what could be a better name for an iconic seafood restaurant?” she said in 2014.
Others said the name came from a printer creating Red Lobster’s first menus, as a play on the name The Green Frog.
4. Owner Darden sold his company to General Mills:
After two years of serving up its first lobsters, Darden had grown the restaurant from a single location to three restaurants.
In 1970, General Mills (which makes Pillsbury cinnamon rolls and Cheerios) was looking to expand into the restaurant market, and Red Lobster seemed promising. General Mills purchased the chain, put Darden in the managerial seat, thus held onto Red Lobster for 25 years, until the company created the subsidiary Darden Restaurants, Inc. in 1995.
5. How the famous Cheddar Bay Biscuits was born:
The American nation’s number one casual-dining seafood chain is famous for their Cheddar Bay Biscuits. The legendary biscuits were first introduced in 1988.
Executive Chef Kurt Hankins latched onto biscuits since they were a family-friendly comfort food, and they were so well-liked during test runs, developed a cult-like following.
But, they didn’t have the Cheddar Bay name—the original biscuits were called “freshly baked, hot cheese garlic bread” (so long) before getting an official title 5 years later.
6. Arguably, people go for its free biscuit appetizer:
People love them so much that the restaurant ends up serving over 395 million biscuits every year. You can even make your own Cheddar Bay Biscuits at home thanks to Walmart. Now, Red Lobster bakes a new batch of biscuits every 15 minutes and cooks one million biscuits per day.
7. Red Lobster has the title of popcorn shrimp inventor:
Wondering how the prawn poppers came to be?
Shrimp or prawn became a popular seafood choice in the 1970s, right at the time when Red Lobster was growing its young chain. Back then it was traditionally served as a shrimp cocktail. Evolving, the new breaded and fried version presented a much more manageable way to plate and eat seafood.
Joe Lee, one of Darden’s original partners, says Red Lobster made a lot of Americans—especially Midwesterners who didn’t have immediate access to seafood—fans: “We also … introduced snow crab and calamari to Middle America.
8. Back in 2003, Red Lobster suffered major financial losses from an all-you-can-eat crab promotion:
In 2003, Red Lobster conducted a $20 Endless Snow Crab promotion, similar to Endless Shrimp. Unfortunately, Red Lobster marketing didn’t account for how many people the promo would bring in, how long they would stay, and how much crab they would order (spoiler: tons of it).
To add more salt to the wound, wholesale snow crab prices climbed at the same time, and Red Lobster immediately began to lose profits.
According to this article from the St. Petersburg Times, company chairman Joe R. Lee states: “It wasn’t the second helping, it was the third one that hurt.” Shortly thereafter, it was reported that former president Edna Morris left her position to seek other opportunities. The company, however, denies her departure in correlation to this incident.
9. Wondering how Red Lobster makes money during Endless Shrimp season?
The answer is pretty simple: no one wants to eat alone. To break even on your shrimp meal, you’d have to eat about three pounds of shrimp which is around a whopping 100 pieces.
But, since most people come to the restaurant with family or friends, they make more money off groups even if one person binges.
10. Red Lobster fought back against being called the worst-thing-to-eat-ever:
The Center for Science named one of Red Lobster’s “Create Your Own Combination” meals as one of the worst things you could be eating.
Ordering Walt’s Favorite Shrimp, Shrimp Linguine Alfredo and Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut Shrimp comes with a side of fries, a salad, and of course, Cheddar Bay Biscuits. The ensemble also includes 6530 milligrams of sodium. Red Lobster defended themselves saying that the Create Your Own Combination deal could be reworked with healthier meal options based on a diner’s preferences.
11. These celebrities paid their bills with day jobs at Red Lobster before hitting the big time:
Before Chris Rock became the comedy icon that he is today, he started from humble beginnings. In one of his stand-up acts titled “Job Versus Career,” Rock explains the difference between having a job and having a career. His career? Working in comedy. His past job? Working as a dishwasher at Red Lobster for minimum wage, scraping fish into the trash can.
Nicki Minaj also claims she was fired from “every Red Lobster [she] could think of.” In an interview with Hot 109.7, she details her poor work ethic, which included chasing pen-stealing customers out of the restaurant and misplacing nails in the food. Glad you stuck with music, Nicki.
12. 2013 was a scary time for Red Lobster fans:
The restaurant’s parent company was allegedly preparing to sell its seafood empire as part of a plan to boost shareholder value. Its future looked grim. Along with Cheesecake Factory and Waffle House, Red Lobster has maintained a special kind of cult status in America. So who could blame people for mourning the potential loss of a business that spread New England charm to places without ocean views? Luckily, that talk died down. In fact, Red Lobster decided to up the ante—selling even more lobster-related dishes on their new menu. People let out a collective sigh of relief. After all, what would a world be without endless Cheddar Bay biscuits?
Darden sold his famous seafood chain in 2014 for $2.1 billion in an effort to stem losses, and with new leadership, the restaurant is still serving up crustaceans.
13. A funny “coma” scandal:
The same year, food writer Kevin Shalin was involved in a fake news story posted on the Rock City Times, a site known as “Arkansas’ 2nd most unreliable news source.” The article detailed a made-up experience at Red Lobster where he consumed 413 biscuits (62,000 calories) that allegedly landed him in the hospital. In no time, British news websites The Daily Mail, The Sun, and Mirror snatched the story up and began writing on the hoax, portraying it as reality. Shalin had to take to Twitter to explain to his followers the story was satire rather than fact.