Bill Darden was just 19 years old when he opened his first restaurant in 1938. It was a 25-seat luncheonette in Waycross, Ga., called The Green Frog and promised "Service with a Hop."
The first Red Lobster opened in Lakeland, Fla., in 1968. Today, Red Lobster is the largest full-service seafood dining company in the world, serving nearly 3 million guests a week. Joe R. Lee (right) was on the management team of that first Red Lobster.
Bill Darden (left) mentored Joe R. Lee, who became Red Lobster's president in 1975. Twenty years later, Lee was named the first Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Darden Restaurants.
George McKerrow Jr. and his father opened the first LongHorn steakhouse in Atlanta, Ga., in 1981. During the infamous 1982 Atlanta snow storm, stranded motorists were lured inside by $1 drinks and food specials. They were won over by awesome steaks and genuine hospitality.
The first Olive Garden opened its doors in Orlando, Fla. in 1982. Olive Garden continues to be the number one full-service Italian restaurant company in the country.
Founder Ned Grace created a consumer favorite in the premium steakhouse category in 1990 with The Capital Grille. Nationally acclaimed for dry-aging steaks on the premises, it also features an award-winning wine list anda comfortable club-like atmosphere.
Darden Restaurants Inc. split from General Mills and became a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange in 1995. The new company was named for its founder, Bill Darden.
The Darden Restaurants, Inc. Foundation, created in 1995, gives millions of dollars to organizations each year. To mark Joe Lee's retirement in 2006, it funded a new Boys & Girls Club in Eatonville, Fla., the oldest African-American township in the U.S.
In 1996, Darden premiered an internally developed restaurant company called Bahama Breeze. With island inspired food and hand-crafted tropical drinks, Bahama Breeze provides the feeling of a Caribbean escape where guests are invited to "Feed Your Island Spirit."
In 1996, founder Steele Platt opened the first Yard House in Long Beach, California, featuring a vast selection of draft beer, a continuous playlist of classic and contemporary rock, and an eclectic menu of both classic and innovative fare.
In 1998, Diamond Club was created to recognize and celebrate the outstanding achievements of top restaurant leaders. The same year, the Brilliance Awards were created to recognize excellence among support center employees.
The Darden Dimes Employee Assistance Program, started in 1999, is funded by Darden employees for Darden employees. The money helps co-workers in need.
In a place where steak is king, Guy Villavaso and Larry Foles recognized a unique opportunity for the underserved seafood niche and decided to take the steakhouse concept and flip it - opening the first Eddie V's Prime Seafood in Austin, Texas, in 2000.
Seasons 52 opened in 2003 as a casually sophisticated, fresh grill restaurant that celebrates living well. It offers the sensational flavors of a seasonally inspired menu and more than 140 quality wines from around the world.
Clarence Otis was named Darden's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Drew Madsen was named Darden's President and Chief Operating Officer.
In 2007, Darden celebrated the addition of the LongHorn Steakhouse and The Capital Grille brands. This combination has made us an even stronger company.
Darden's new Restaurant Support Center, opened in 2009, is a place of pride and performance that will help create a legacy of greatness for generations.
Darden announces its Sustainable Restaurant Design Initiative and opens its first LEED-certified restaurant – an Olive Garden in Jonesboro, Ark.
Darden celebrates being named to FORTUNE's list of the "100 Best Companies to Work For" in America. Darden is the first full-service restaurant company to ever make the list.
Darden announces plans to reduce its calorie and sodium footprints by 20% over 10 years and to provide greater choice and variety on its children's menus. First Lady Michelle Obama attended the event and congratulated the company on its commitment to health & wellness.
In 2011, Darden's family of brands grew to seven with the addition of Eddie V's to its Specialty Restaurant Group.
In 2012, Darden added Yard House to its Specialty Restaurant Group, bringing the total number of brands in its portfolio to eight.
In 2014, Red Lobster was sold to Golden Gate Capital for $2.1 billion, reducing the total number of brands in Darden's portfolio to seven.