- Red Lobster named Horace Dawson as CEO Thursday, the company announced in a press release. Dawson has served as EVP and general counsel at the full-service chain since 2014.
- Dawson has 30 years of restaurant experience working at companies like Darden Restaurants and Hard Rock Cafe.
- Red Lobster has been without a CEO since Kelli Valade resigned from the post in 2022 after less than a year in the position. Valade left the seafood brand to take on the role of CEO at Denny’s.
Red Lobster’s CEO shuffle began when longtime CEO Kim Lopdrup retired after leading the brand for 14 years. The company also brought in David Schmidt as CFO last year after Craig Pommels left the chain for Cracker Barrel.
Despite these leadership shifts, owner Thai Union Group — which bought the chain in 2020 — has been working to improve the chain. Earlier this year, Red Lobster closed roughly eight units, according to Restaurant Business. The chain started to see profitability during the first quarter, according to The Orlando Sentinel. As of the second quarter, losses have improved, thanks in part to the company’s transition strategy. Price increases and lower food and labor costs have also helped, according to an earnings presentation from TUG.
The chain’s strategic pillars include growing its My Red Lobster Rewards and off-premise sales, optimizing its menu to improve costs and meet labor and efficiency needs and boost labor productivity. The company plans to offer additional food and beverage items, like alcoholic beverages, and refresh its restaurants to provide a more polished appeal.
The company made its Ultimate Endless Shrimp, which was a summer LTO, available all the time to help grow traffic. It also hosted its first Endless Lobster event in March in a New York Times Square restaurant.
“This is an important time for our brand. We are continuing to evolve our menu and guest experience to give our guests more of what they want every time they visit one of our restaurants,” said Dawson.
In addition to Dawson’s promotion, Paul Kenny, who has been a liaison between Red Lobster’s leadership and board after Valade’s departure, has been appointed chairman of the board. Kenny has over 50 years of experience in the food industry and most recently was CEO and executive advisor at Minor Food Group and currently serves as director on the board of Minor International.