Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Red Lobster chain goes bankrupt after unlimited shrimp deal

A Red Lobster restaurant in Lakewood, Calif  (Eric Thayer/Bloomberg)
By Reshmi Basu </p><p>and Claire Boston Bloomberg

Seafood restaurant chain Red Lobster filed for bankruptcy, succumbing to onerous leases, high labor costs and a disastrous unlimited shrimp promotion.

The Orlando, Florida-based company filed for Chapter 11 protection on Sunday, listing assets and liabilities of $1 billion to $10 billion each in its bankruptcy petition. The filing allows the company to keep operating while it works out a plan to repay creditors.

Red Lobster plans to hand control of the company to its lenders, led by Fortress Investment Group, which has agreed to provide $100 million in financing to support the chain through bankruptcy. The takeover offer is in the form of a stalking horse bid, meaning it will set the floor price for Red Lobster’s assets and is subject to better bids should any materialize in the coming weeks, according to court documents.

The restaurant chain had been deteriorating for several years, with diners down around 30% since 2019, Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Tibus wrote in court papers. While the business had shown signs of recovery since the pandemic, sales declined sharply in the last 12 months, Tibus wrote. It lost $76 million in the 2023 fiscal year.

Inflationary pressures have kept customers from dining out and higher labor costs strained the company’s finances. A “material portion” of Red Lobster’s leases were priced above market rates. In May 2023, the company changed its $20 “Ultimate Endless Shrimp” from a limited-time offer to a permanent promotion, costing it $11 million as diners devoured expensive plates of shrimp.

Red Lobster traces its roots to a single restaurant in Lakeland, Florida in 1968. It expanded rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s, and developed a loyal following for its Cheddar Bay Biscuits. The company now operates more than 550 restaurants in the US and Canada.

The restaurant chain, which has been owned by seafood supplier Thai Union Group Plc since 2020, serves 64 million customers per year and purchases 20% of all North American lobster tails, as well as 16% of all rock lobsters worldwide.

Thai Union and Red Lobster had been in talks with lenders for an out-of-court deal that would hand the creditors 80% of the company, but discussions fell through. Lenders made additional loans worth $20 million to Red Lobster in February, but they weren’t willing to put in more money without support from the owner, according to court papers.

Red Lobster said it’s also investigating the shrimp deal, including how it was marketed in restaurants and if Thai Union “exercised an outsized influence” on shrimp purchases.

The chain employs 34,000 people in the US and an additional 2,000 in Canada. Last week, it shuttered 93 underperforming stores.

The case is Red Lobster Management LLC, 24-02486, US Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida.