William B. Darden, founded Red Lobster after years of restaurant experience that began at age 19, when he ran a Depression-era lunch counter called The Green Frog in his hometown of Waycross, Ga. The eatery's slogan was: "Service With a Hop."
After shepherding numerous restaurants across the Southeast, Darden opened the first Red Lobster in Lakeland in 1968. He was inspired by the success of Gary's Duck Inn, an Orlando landmark that operated on the Orange Blossom Trail for 49 years. Darden bought Gary's with partners in 1963 and from there he developed a seafood restaurant emphasizing fast service at affordable prices. Over the next two years, he opened four restaurants in Central Florida before selling them to General Mills Inc. in 1970. In 1995, General Mills spun off its restaurant group, restructured, and took the name Darden, in tribute to its founder.
William Darden's original slogan has taken an extraordinary leap. Darden is the world's largest company-owned restaurant entity with more than $7 billion in annual sales. The company has more than 1,800 restaurants including Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52.
-- Heather McPhersonCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun