Seafood Lovers Mourn as Troubled Red Lobster Shuts Down 100 Restaurants – What’s Next?

NEW YORK, NY – Red Lobster, a popular seafood chain, is facing closures of around 100 restaurants across the United States, with up to 135 more closures anticipated in the near future. The decline of Red Lobster, known for its cheddar bay biscuits and all-you-can-eat seafood deals, is not only affecting communities but also has a significant impact on its loyal Black customer base.

Historians, customers, and former Red Lobster executives note that Black diners have long been a key demographic for the brand, with a higher share of Black customers compared to other major casual chain restaurants. The chain’s former CEO, Clarence Otis Jr., acknowledged the importance of Black customers to Red Lobster, emphasizing the brand’s cultivation of this customer base.

Despite facing financial troubles, Red Lobster’s history of hiring Black workers and serving Black guests has deep roots, dating back to its establishment in the late 1960s. Celebrities like Chris Rock and Nicki Minaj even had ties to the chain before their fame. The chain’s appeal to Black diners grew over time, attracting both working-class and affluent customers during the 1970s and 1980s.

Marcia Chatelain, a professor of Africana studies, highlights Red Lobster’s strategic locations near shopping malls, which played a role in its popularity among Black customers. The chain’s openness and friendliness to Black patrons set it apart during a time when many restaurants were unwelcoming to Black guests. Additionally, Red Lobster’s marketing efforts specifically targeted Black consumers, solidifying its reputation as a welcoming establishment for Black diners.

The chain’s founder, Bill Darden, opened the first Red Lobster in 1968 in Lakeland, Florida, as a racially integrated establishment. Despite some claims of Darden being a civil rights pioneer, the initial reception of Black customers was not overwhelmingly supportive. However, over the years, Red Lobster earned the loyalty of Black customers through its delicious seafood offerings and welcoming atmosphere.

Red Lobster’s popularity within the Black community extended beyond just the food; it became a symbol of status and sophistication for many Black diners. The chain’s ability to bring the outdoor fish fry experience indoors resonated with Black patrons, signifying a transition to a more upscale dining experience for many.

As Red Lobster faces closures and financial challenges, the impact on its Black customers, who have been an integral part of its success, is significant. The chain’s history of serving Black diners and its reputation for inclusivity have shaped its identity within the Black community, making its decline a poignant loss for many.