Who’ll miss a Red Lobster?

(Courtesy of Viking)
(Courtesy of Viking)

Some investors reacted negatively to Friday’s announcement that Darden will sell the Red Lobster restaurant chain to a private equity firm for $2.1 billion.

Wall Street bankers and lawyers can argue over the wisdom of dumping the seafood restaurants for quick cash — but leave it to a novelist to consider the real cost for workers as they’re forced to deal with the upheaval of new corporate management.

In 2007, Stewart O’Nan published “Last Night at the Lobster,” about the final hours of one Red Lobster restaurant at a depressed shopping mall in Connecticut. Seven years later, his story seems even more poignant and true.

I asked O’Nan last night how he felt about the company’s continuing troubles. His answer, of course, had nothing to do with share prices or after-tax profits.

“I think of towns in the Midwest where Red Lobster is sometimes the only seafood restaurant, and a place older people and families go to either regularly or for special occasions,” he said. “Whether you think chain restaurants are good or bad, when they close, it leaves a hole in people’s lives. Who’ll miss a Red Lobster? That was the (partly rhetorical) question my agent asked me when I told him I was writing about one. The answer, I found out, is lots of folks — both people who work there and people who eat there.”

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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