San Francisco, California-based Golden Gate Capital has agreed to sell its remaining equity stake in Orlando, Florida-headquartered Red Lobster Seafood Co. to a consortium comprised of existing Red Lobster stakeholder Thai Union, an investor group consisting of experienced global restaurateurs and hospitality industry executives, and members of the Red Lobster management team. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
With more than 40 years of industry experience, Bangkok-headquartered Thai Union is a publicly traded global seafood supplier with an enterprise value of approximately $4 billion. Its financial involvement in Red Lobster began with a $575 million strategic investment in 2016, when it also added two representatives to the board of directors.
The new investor group, coming together under a company named Seafood Alliance, is comprised of key shareholders Paul Kenny and Rit Thirakomen, who together have over 75 years of experience in restaurant industry strategy, operations and brand building. Kenny is the former chief executive officer of Minor Food, one of Asia’s largest casual dining and quick service restaurant companies that operates more than 2,000 outlets in 27 countries under The Pizza Company, The Coffee Club, Riverside, Thai Express, Benihana, Bonchon, Swensen’s, Sizzler, Dairy Queen and Burger King banners.
Thirakomen is the chairman, chief executive officer and controlling shareholder of MK Restaurant Group, a leading Thai restaurant chain.
Red Lobster CEO Kim Lopdrup, who recently remarked that during the ongoing coronavirus health crisis the chain has been facing “the most challenging time” in its more than five decades of existence, welcomed the acquisition news.
“We are thrilled to deepen our relationship with Thai Union, a long-term strategic supplier to Red Lobster and an investment partner for the last four years,” said Lopdrup. “Our organization will also benefit from the tremendous international restaurant and hospitality expertise brought by Seafood Alliance. I want to thank Golden Gate Capital for their unwavering support over the past six years, and particularly over the past five months.”
Thiraphong Chansiri, president and chief executive officer of Thai Union, commented: “As an anchor investor in Red Lobster since 2016, we are excited to confirm our commitment to the business, which reflects our utmost confidence in management and the company’s strategy of serving top quality seafood for a great value. The Red Lobster brand is strong, with unmatched awareness and millions of loyal guests, and we believe it has tremendous long-term potential. We look forward to capitalizing on that solid base, as well as leveraging Seafood Alliance’s restaurant expertise and international relationships, to continue to develop the brand domestically and internationally.”
Josh Olshansky, a managing director at Golden Gate Capital, said: “We have enjoyed a highly successful partnership with Red Lobster and are proud to have worked collaboratively alongside Kim Lopdrup and the management team since 2014, achieving strong returns for our investors. With a strong liquidity position, we know the business is in great hands and look forward to cheering the team on under new ownership.”
Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Red Lobster has reinforced its quality assurance and safety standards regimen and added new preventative steps in accordance with CDC guidelines and government mandates maintain customer safety. The chain has also introduced touchless delivery and touchless curbside pick-up for “to go” orders as well as new menu innovations like Family Feasts, which serve a family of four for as little as $7 per person.
As of September 1, 99% of company-operated Red Lobster units in the United States are open for takeout and delivery, and 88% of dining rooms are open. For customers dining in, the restaurant chain is offering both single-use paper menus and QR code-enabled menus that can be read on a mobile device. Guests can pay contact-free via Apple Pay or by credit card on sanitized tablets at each table.