He has led the brand for 14 years.
Red Lobster announced Friday that CEO Kim Lopdrup plans to retire.
Lopdrup will remain in place until a successor is chosen. Red Lobster hired The Elliot Group to assist with the CEO search.
"The pandemic is finally winding down, and Red Lobster has emerged with the best menu we've ever had, vastly-improved off-premise systems, a stronger business model and over 10 million members in our award-winning loyalty program, My Red Lobster Rewards,” Lopdrup said in a statement. “We have great initiatives in the pipeline and a terrific leadership team in place. I'm confident we are well-positioned to attract an outstanding new CEO who can lead Red Lobster to greatness over the next generation."
The industry veteran has led Red Lobster for 14 years across two different stints. The first came in 2004-2011 when he served as president under the guidance of Darden Restaurants. In 2014, Golden Gate Capital purchased Red Lobster for $2.1 billion and took the company private. Lopdrup returned that year as CEO, and has helmed the chain ever since. In August 2020, Golden Gate agreed to sell its remaining equity stake in Red Lobster to a consortium of brand investor Thai Union and Red Lobster management, called Seafood Alliance.
Around the same time, Debtwire reported that Red Lobster was exploring strategic options after facing “unprecedented challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.” The publication said the chain was dealing with earnings pressure and near-term maturities. In January, Red Lobster completed debt refinancing.
Lopdrup described the COVID pandemic as the “greatest challenge Red Lobster has ever faced.” The chain pivoted by offering Rapid Red Curbside Pickup, delivery, and Family Feasts. The concept tripled off-premises sales as a result. As COVID restrictions have relented, Red Lobster has reopened dining rooms and offered single-use paper menus and QR code-enabled menus that can be read on a mobile device. Guests can also pay contact-free via Apple Pay or by credit card on Presto tablets at each table and sanitized for each party.
Since January, Red Lobster has hired 20,000 workers. In April, Lopdrup told the Orlando Business Journal that Red Lobster wants to hire 3,000 employees per month for the foreseeable future. Pre-pandemic, the brand had roughly 50,000 workers, but it was down to about 40,000 in late April. The media outlet reported that Red Lobster has roughly 740 locations, with about 675 of them being company-run.
"Our employees are heroes," Lopdrup said. "Our team's loyalty, resilience and hard work during the pandemic was incredible. Our people truly are the heart and soul of Red Lobster."
The Orlando Business Journal also reported Red Lobster is subleasing a significant amount of its 91,000-square-foot headquarters in downtown Orlando after learning an overwhelming majority of restaurant support center workers prefer to work at home.
“We came up with a prototype on how we can operate in less space," Lopdrup told the publication. "This way, it's a win for employees and for us. Our employees get to work in a way they prefer and that's proving to be quite effective for us as a company."
After his retirement from Red Lobster, Lopdrup will remain on the boards of Wawa, Bob Evans Restaurants, and Kalera, a hydroponic vertical farming company for which he recently agreed to serve as the next chairman.