OPINIONEmerging Brands

Think recent closings were dramatic? Here's the whole chain Darden had to shutter

All 51 units of China Coast went dark on the same Tuesday morning. But that didn't stop its parent from considering other entries into the Asian market.

The restaurant industry has seen a number of big-name chains reveal widespread closures within their ranks in recent weeks. Outback parent Bloomin’ Brand alerted Wall Street that it intends to close 41 stores, while adding another 45. Denny’s recently acknowledged that it had shut about 60 stores in 2023 because the units were no longer financially sustainable.

As dramatic as those closures might be, they may not have spun as many heads as the complete shutdown nearly 30 years ago of a 51-unit chain in a single day. What grabbed attention was the company pulling the plug: Darden Restaurants, better known as the Midas-like operation that ran Olive Garden and Red Lobster at the time.

The full-service operator had launched an Asian concept just five years earlier with hopes of duplicating what it had done with Olive Garden: offering consumers a safe, reasonable and dependable alternative to the thousands of mom-and-pop ethnic restaurants that dotted the landscape at the time. There was no leading Chinese brand, just as there hadn’t been a national Italian option until Olive Garden came along.

But China Coast proved it was no Olive Garden. After a mere five years, Darden decided it was losing too much money on the upstart, and snapped off the whole system’s lights on a Tuesday morning.

But Darden wasn’t finished with the Asian market, as you’ll learn from listening to this week’s episode of Restaurant Rewind, the podcast that travels into the industry’s past for more insights on what’s happening in the business today.

What did Darden hope would be a more viable Asian concept than China Coast? And what went wrong with China Coast in the first place?

Press Play to find out.

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