Red Lobster Temporarily Closes Dozens of Restaurants

If you ever wanted to buy a lobster tank and an industrial freezer, now is the time.

Equipment from more than 50 Red Lobster restaurants across the United States was up for auction on Tuesday, a liquidator said, as the embattled seafood chain’s website listed dozens of locations as being temporarily closed.

The auction site includes grainy pictures of freezers, ovens, blenders and other items. A photo of a tank with live lobsters appeared in the listing for the Red Lobster in Redding, Calif., along with photos of a bar with whiskey bottles and a refrigerator stocked with wine and beer.

The auctions were scheduled to end on Thursday, and items must be picked up on Friday, according to the liquidator, TAGeX Brands. Whoever who wins the bid for a particular restaurant will receive everything inside it (not including perishable goods and alcohol, the auction site noted).

Red Lobster did not respond to inquiries Tuesday morning.

Red Lobster, based in Orlando, Fla., opened its first location in 1968 and now has restaurants across the United States, plus others in Asia and Latin America. Its décor was inspired by Bar Harbor, a coastal town in Maine.

Red Lobster is still an American institution, but it has been losing money for a while. Last year, its decision to drastically expand an all-you-can-eat shrimp promotion contributed to an $11 million quarterly operating loss.

Bloomberg News reported last month that Red Lobster was looking to restructure its debt and considering whether to file for bankruptcy. The company did not comment for that article.

For many American families, Red Lobster has long been an aspirational dining choice, and for some an introduction to seafood. In the late 1960s and ’70s, its logo advertised the restaurant as a cocktail lounge with an oyster bar.

Red Lobster has also filtered into American popular culture, including in the 1996 Adam Sandler comedy “Happy Gilmore” and the 2016 Beyoncé song “Formation,” in which she sang about taking a romantic partner to the restaurant.

General Mills purchased the chain in 1970. It was later owned by Darden Restaurants, a General Mills subsidiary, and was purchased by Golden Gate Capital, a private equity firm, in 2014.

Red Lobster’s largest shareholder since 2020 has been Thai Union Group, a seafood conglomerate based in Thailand. That company announced in January that it had decided to exit its Red Lobster investment. It later said that it had written down its $530 million stake.

Thai Union said in its January announcement that Red Lobster had been hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, higher interest rates, rising labor and material costs, and “sustained industry headwinds.” It said in a brief email on Tuesday that it was still in the process of “exiting its minority investment” and had no further comment.

Another major shareholder in Red Lobster is Seafood Alliance, a Belgium-based association of international seafood businesses, according to Thai Union. Seafood Alliance did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

Victor Mather contributed reporting.

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