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Unlimited Breadsticks and Full-Service Restaurants

Darden Restaurants is an American multi-brand restaurant operator. It owns and operates several popular chain restaurants concentrated in the US, Canada, and other countries across the Americas. Darden owns over 1,800, and several of their restaurant brands operate on a franchise model, with Olive Garden being the most notable example and holding. The company is headquartered in Orlando, Florida, and its shares are listed on the NYSE.

The Green Frog and General Mills

While the Darden of today is a diversified multinational corporation, its roots can be traced back to a small establishment called The Green Frog in Waycross, Georgia. Bill Darden opened the restaurant when he was just 19, and his little diner quickly became very popular. One of the most notable things about this is the fact that he welcomed everyone to his restaurant, something that was far from being the norm in the segregated Deep South at the time. Bill Darden founded Red Lobster in 1968 with the first locations seeing great early success, he eventually sold the chain to General Mills. However, he got a role within the company, and under his supervision and with the resources of General Mills, the company grew rapidly.

General Mills eventually decided to divest its restaurant operations, and in 1995 what we today know as Darden Restaurants saw the light of day. Following the divestiture, the company acquired and opened a number of new franchises, and today it owns several different chains.

The Restaurants

The company’s largest and most recognizable holding is Olive Garden, a full-service restaurant focusing on American-Italian food. Roughly 50% of the company’s revenue is generated by the chain, but it's far from being the only restaurant that Darden owns and operates. Other holdings include Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, LongHorn Steakhouse, Seasons 52, Eddie V’s, and several others.

Franchising

Unlike companies such as McDonald’s and Starbucks, which operate more or less exclusively on a franchising model, Darden has traditionally owned and operated its locations itself, but in recent years the company has started offering select franchising opportunities for prospective franchisees.