Dustin Hilinski has a big job on his hands. He is the director of culinary for a new seafood restaurant company, albeit a company started out as the largest chain of seafood restaurants in the world, with more than 700 locations. That's a lot of people to feed, but that isn't his biggest challenge. It's getting the dining public to reconsider its opinion of Red Lobster and to give it a second chance.
For Hilinski, that means putting more fish and lobster on the menu. You'd think that would be obvious, what with the name of the restaurant and all. But Hilinski thinks that Red Lobster sort of lost its way in its final years under the Darden Restaurant banner. It tried, he says, to be too many things to too many people, and in so doing lost its focus.
Darden, of course, sold the seafood restaurant chain in May for $2.1 billion to private equity firm Golden Gate Capital. It was all kind of a messy situation and ultimately contributed to the reasons that led Clarence Otis to resign as Darden's CEO and chairman. As it shed the brand like a crustacean during molting season, Darden said the company would be better off without it, citing that Red Lobster had not been profitable since 2011.
What happened to it? After all, this was the brand that launched what would become the largest restaurant company in the country when Bill Darden opened his first Red Lobster in Lakeland in 1968. He chose Lakeland because it was not on a coast, and he wanted to see if a seafood restaurant could succeed without a saltwater view. The middle of Florida, however, is hardly the middle of America. And getting average Americans to eat fish has always been one of the chain's biggest challenges. That's why, in its later years under Darden, Red Lobster was adding more non-seafood items to its menu.