New owners for Red Lobster seafood chain

Darden, the parent company of Red Lobster, has reached an agreement to sell the seafood restaurant chain to a San Francisco-based private equity firm for $2.1 billion in cash, Darden officials announced this morning.

The buyer, Golden Gate Capital, owns all or part of several other retail companies, including California Pizza Kitchen, Payless ShoeSource, Eddie Bauer, Express, Zales and J.Jill. Darden officials said the sale is expected to close in the first fiscal quarter of 2015.

There are nine Red Lobster restaurants in southwest and west-central Ohio, including five in the Dayton area: in Beavercreek near the Mall at Fairfield Commons; in Miami Twp. near the Dayton Mall; on Miller Lane in Butler Twp.; on West First Street in Springfield; and on East Ash Street in Piqua. There are four Red Lobsters in the Cincinnati area.

Darden announced in December 2013 that it would attempt to sell or spin off its seafood-restaurant chain, which generated $2.6 billion in sales in 2013 but which has struggled and faced declining same-store sales during a prolonged casual-dining downturn.

Red Lobster’s parent company had tried multiple strategies to boost sales and customer traffic. In 2008, Red Lobster installed wood-fired grills in its restaurants and launched a menu that included multiple oak-grilled items. In late 2011 and early 2012, Red Lobster n restaurants in southwest Ohio underwent extensive remodeling. And in June 2012, Darden officials announced what they called “the most comprehensive core menu change at the brand in the last decade,” adding more items priced below $15 and a greater variety of non-seafood menu items.

Red Lobster, which was founded in 1968 and which operates about 700 locations in North America, helped popularize seafood in the U.S.

Darden also operates several other restaurant chains, including Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, that have extensive and growing presence in the region. A large new LongHorn Steakhouse is under construction in Vandalia near the Miller Lane restaurant row.

Darden is adding lighter items and smaller-portion dishes to the 820-unit Olive Garden chain.

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