ORLANDO, Fla. — Darden interim CEO Gene Lee will be sticking around at Darden, as he has been appointed CEO and director of the Orlando, Fla.-based company, which operates Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s, Yard House, Seasons 52 and Bahama Breeze, with a handful of units in Canada.
Lee was previously COO and was named interim CEO in October 2014, taking over Clarence Otis’ position. Lee is a 30-year restaurant veteran who joined Darden in 2007 when it acquired RARE Hospitality International, where Lee served as president and CEO.
There’s been a host of company changes during the past year. Darden announced plans to sell Red Lobster last year for approximately $2.1 billion, of which a billion was used to pay down outstanding debt. It received a lot of backlash from its shareholders, who protested the deal with San Francisco-based Golden Gate Capital without seeking approval from the group of shareholders. The sale was finalized in July.
Under Lee’s leadership, during its past quarter ended Nov. 23, 2014, the brand boasted an increase in same-store sales, with chains such as The Capital Grille growing sales by 5.0 per cent; Eddie V’s growing sales by 4.9 per cent; and Yard House growing sales by 3.7 per cent. Olive Garden posted a slight uptick in sales, with growth of 0.5 per cent. “Gene has already done a terrific job improving the energy and attitude inside Darden, and we expect the reinvigorated culture to continue to improve. Gene brings the perfect combination of restaurant-level operating experience, brand- and corporate-level management expertise, and thoughtful, focused, hands-on leadership,” said Jeffrey Smith, Darden’s independent non-executive chairman.