Darden Restaurants, the parent company behind restaurants such as Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, today announced that it has sold Red Lobster. Ownership of the seafood restaurant will be transferred to private equity firm Golden Gate Capital for $2.1 billion.
The deal includes around $1.6 billion in cash. Darden stated that $1 billion of the cash will go straight to reducing the company's debt obligations. The rest of the money will put toward a share buyback plan that will take place over the coming year.
The deal is expected to close during the first quarter of 2015. Darden's board of directors has already approved the sale. Though the sale is not subject to shareholder approval, Darden has filed for a special meeting of shareholders that should take place "as promptly as practicable."
According to today's announcement, Darden had been shopping Red Lobster around for a buyer for quite some time. The company said it made the decision to sell the restaurant because it didn't want to be responsible for turning around the restaurant's falling revenue. Darden has been struggling in recent years, as many middle class consumers hit by the economic downturn have cut dining out from their budgets.
"Over the past months, we have had extensive conversations with our shareholders about Darden and the Company's strategic direction," said Clarence Otis, CEO of Darden. "By enabling us to bolster the company's financial foundation and increase our focus on the Olive Garden brand renaissance program, we believe this agreement addresses key issues that our shareholders have raised, including the need to preserve the company's dividend and regain momentum at Olive Garden. At the same time, it provides Red Lobster and its dedicated employees and leadership team with a partner who has a strong track record in the industry and is as equally dedicated to Red Lobster's success. Our board and management team are highly focused on enhancing shareholder value, and we believe this transaction is consistent with the efforts underway to deliver on this responsibility."
Image via Red Lobster