The story of Clarence Otis Jr. – Darden CEO leads Red Lobster and Olive Garden

Chalk this one up to the infinite list of things I didn’t know. Thanks to Rose for the heads up.

The Higher Education of the Nation’s Top African-American Restaurateur


Each week tens of thousands of diners eat at an Olive Garden or Red Lobster restaurant. Few of these diners know that the CEO heading these large restaurant chains is a black man.

Clarence Otis Jr. is the CEO of Darden Restaurants Inc., the largest casual dining operator in the nation. The firm operates nearly 1,400 company-owned restaurants coast to coast serving 300 million meals annually. Darden employs 150,000 workers and has annual revenues of $6 billion.

Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Otis moved to Los Angeles when he was 6 years old. His father was a high school dropout who worked as a janitor.

The family lived in Watts at the time of the 1965 riots. In the post-Watts period, Otis recalls being stopped and questioned by police several times a year because of the color of his skin.

A high school guidance counselor recommended him for a scholarship at Williams College, the highly selective liberal arts institution in Massachusetts. Otis graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Williams and went on to earn a law degree at Stanford.

Otis landed on Wall Street as a merger and acquisitions attorney for J.P. Morgan Securities. He joined Darden Restaurants in 1995 as corporate treasurer. He became CEO in 2004.

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32 Responses

  1. Al Bowman says:

    After reading this in my belief I for the first time in a long time can honestly say this has been an inspiration.

  2. JH says:

    Congratulations on your success Mr. Clarence Otis Jr. The chain of Successful African American males must continue. Thank You.

  3. Brenda Bradford says:

    Very informative; extremely encouraging….

  4. Inga says:

    I had no idea the CEO was black. Count me in for eating more at the Darden restaurants and giving Darden restaurant gift cards as gifts!!!

  5. Peacockhandler says:

    Why does it have to be a black thing ? There has not been much racial adversity for at least 30 years. I think he is successful because he deserved it as a person who is smart and worked hard.

  6. Dottie says:

    That depends who is looking at this person success. How much he had to endure to get to this stage of being recognize for his ablities.. Peace

  7. Lowandshanta says:

    It’s really not a “Black Thing”. This is information that people don’t know. I am using it as a teaching tool tell let the youth in my church and community know of other successful African Americans other than Dr.Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks etc.

  8. jane in chicago says:

    Absolutely amazing that Clarence Otis doesn’t hire black folk to be top waiters in his restaurants. Unbelievable! One of the industry’s serial offenders [in hiring minorities] is Darden Restaurants, the company that owns and operates Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse and the high-end Capital Grille.

    Black applicants are rarely hired at the Capital Grille, the only place within the company where workers can earn a living wage. And there’s no clear pipeline for workers to get from jobs at Red Lobster and Olive Garden to that higher-paid work.3

    Darden is now facing a lawsuit because of its employment practice.

  9. says:

    Not much racial adversity for at least 30 years? Now THAT’s news!

  10. Asa says:

    were you born stupid

  11. Gaptoothfish says:

    The company’s CEO is Clarence Otis Jr., an African-American businessman. In an interview with USA Today, Otis boasts about his company’s “talent evaluation process” and practice of providing employees with “advanced training and development.” Darden Restaurants, the company that owns and operates Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse and the high-end Capital Grille. But that’s not the story that’s reveals itself if you talk to the company’s Black employees, as partners at ROC-United have done.

    Black applicants are rarely hired at the Capital Grille, the only place within the company where workers can earn a living wage. And there’s no clear pipeline for workers to get from jobs at Red Lobster and Olive Garden to that higher-paid work.

    Darden is now facing a lawsuit because of its employment practices.Darden runs nearly 2,000 restaurants nationwide and boasts annual sales of $7.5 billion. But the few Black workers who make it into the big leagues there often don’t stay very long. According to reports from two Black servers who worked at Darden’s Capital Grille in DC — a restaurant patronized by politicians, lobbyists, and others in the Washington elite — Black front-of-the-house staff were let go en masse within a short period of time because they “didn’t fit the company image.” They were all replaced by White workers.

    Despite the pattern of racial discrimination, Darden — the world’s largest full-service restaurant company — ranks in the “Top 100 Places to Work,” an annual list published by Fortune Magazine. The company gets high marks for a diverse workforce (of course, there’s no mention of who works which jobs) and for generating the third-most job growth of all the companies on the 2011 list.

    At a time when Black unemployment is nearly twice the national average and the private sector is being heralded as our greatest hope, Darden’s pattern of relegating Black
    workers to the lowest-wage work is unconscionable.

  12. Oklien says:

    Im happy for his success! I love the resturant, however his PA Christine Wheeler is a hard nose cow,get a new PA, shes going to cost you money!

  13. Ira Neal says:

    Two strikes , I am not doing a third.
    To many diners in my area
    Olive garden ruin my wife’s Birthday with Poor customer service.

  14. Hungergames says:


  15. LarryBirdisbeast says:

    <3 Larry Bird

  16. Robert H. Little says:

    Mr. Ortis, please check out the Teppanyaki Grill Buffet manner of preparing and serving food it is flourishing in the Hampton and Newport News, VA area. Thank You, Robert H. Little

  17. 2marbrown says:

    Well, my Men of Distinction needs to meet this man. They need to hear from him why he is the way he is in his wonderful life. I have 35 men who need this. My name is Marcia from Toronto Canada and I will be calling him very soon to have him meet Men of Distinction.

  18. Odie813 says:

    I will NEVER eat at a Darden owned restaurant again! My best friend, a certified Le Cordon Bleu Chef just applied for a position at the NEW Red Lobster, via the web… a call the next day from them all excited and inviting him to come in for an in person interview! Next day after seeing his BLACK skin he got an email saying no positions available! THEY ARE RACIST. I am WHITE and if I had his credentials I would have been hired immediately. Clarence YOU are a sad, sad RACIST and a pitiful person. No wonder you began at J.P. MORGAN when you hit Wall Street. PERFECT!

  19. Odie813 says:

    Forgot to mention the NEW RED LOBSTER opening in a few weeks is in PALM SPRINGS, CA.

  20. Odie813 says:

    Does one of Darden’s restaurants have to serve fried chicken and watermelon in order to hire a black person? I hope the law suit against Clarence Otis JR sends him back to Mississippi where he can experience some REAL RACISM himself. Or J.P. Morgan where the rest of the criminals are.
    PS…..I am WHITE and I wouldn’t eat your food or let you kiss my A__!

  21. Guest says:

    I know your loyalties lie with your friend…but think about it. Kitchen chefs ANYWHERE are rarely seen by patrons; skin complexion a non-starter. Le Cordon Bleu Chef-material, salary-wise, could have easily been out of range for a cook’s position. Last, you were’nt present for the interview. Maybe your friend simply bombed!

  22. Anne says:

    With your hard background and now as a successful CEO and board member of Verizon, I wonder why you would vote to raise the Verizon chief’s salary package when he already makes millions and not raise your own worker’s salaries.

  23. Anonymous says:

    As CEO of the Darden Group, Clarence Otis took home $8.5 million last year. Mean while his employees earn as little as $2.13 an hour.

    It seems fair wages and affordable healthcare aren’t on the menu at Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and other restaurants chains operated by the Darden Group. But corporate greed and looking out for other executives is.

    And as a board member at Verizon, Otis approved a 200% raise for CEO Lowell McAdam. Meanwhile 45,000 Verizon employees are still fighting for a fair contract for good jobs.

  24. Katelyn Fincannon says:

    I had a bad experience in a long horns restaurant with an insect in my food and they wanna say were not refunding you and that they wont be emailing me back anymore because they were tired of hearing from me. which is freaking rediculous thanks for ruining my dads birthday dinner you stupid inconsiderate people.

  25. Erikahalecki says:

    I had the most shocking experience with an employee ( Brenda) of THE RED LOBSTER RESTAURANT IN Merritt Island, FL. All other employees are very helpful and don’t mind doing something extra. This employee stood in front of the Restaurant telephone,.When I asked her to please answer the phone my friend is recuperating from cancer and she may try to call me.Her response to me “I DON”T GET PAYED FOR ANSWERING PHONES”. This was at 11: 25AM. There were 3 lladies in the restaurant NO OTHER patrones. I asked the manager if this is the new policy. Please, SIR, have your empoyees remember that a phone is there to help older patrons. Dear Clarence Otis let your waitress know that good manners bring in Patrons
    Erika Halecki

  26. Anonymous says:

    Whoopdy Fuckin, Doo! He runs a restaurant chain notorious for heinous working conditions, illegal tip-out policies and wage theft. What is the big deal that he’s black? You some kind of racist or something?

  27. Unknowkilla says:

    Now I know why blacks in my restaurant get away with laziness, and I got a insulting raise of 0.05 cents which is a disrespect to me for all the hard work I have done, Im a dishwasher.

  28. heavensint says:

    mr. Darden I live in a community of 60,000.00 we have a college here and 6,000.00 people that pass through out community dailyall sourounding communitiesw coome here to shop and eat out the closest red lobster to us is in abiliene which we do drive to eat on accasion our microplex town has a college here with loads of other sport related event that come to this town the hotels boom with occupans but we would like have a red lobster where we dont have to drive so far to this tow consist of sonic, chillies, pizzahut, dominos,mia familie , gomez, restaraunt, enriques,La botanna,tacbell, taco bueno and a new one being built calledtaco cassa we enjoy spanish food but there are NO PLACES to eat a good sea food meal. the surroundiing communities that come to brownwood and shop are , goldwaite,sansaba,brady,coleman, commanche,zepher, may,richlandsprings ,priddy riseingstar,brooksmith , bangs,Early,on an average of 6000.00 people opass here on a daily basis hwy377north and east south and west. PLEAS consider comming to ourtown and making your own survey of trafic and places to put a GREAT SEA FOOD RESTAURANT WE <LOVE RED LOBSTER just hate driveing 80 miles toenjoy it there is enough community herer to make it boom in buisness tooo many mexican restauran ts we wont something here besides LONG JOHN SILVERS PAAAALEEEASSS onsider talking to brownwood chamber of commerce or early chamber os commerce with a plan for a red lobster to come here thank you sir

  29. Khurram dar says:

    Hi sir this is dar husband of Lina dar whose is the GM of Olive Garden at the loop kissimee
    When she
    Was training to become a manger at Olive Garden she had am affair with one of the waitress Lizzie moody
    They use to kiss Lizzi moody do it I’m the restroom of Olive Garden international ? Even tHR GM of they time that I be leave was Joan I think new about this affair ! But did not not do ant thing about it ???
    Because she told lina when sne became A manager she cannot

  30. murray says:

    the one in Montgomery is bad news red lobster

  31. helma, says:

    Red Lobster Restaurant in Bloomington,MN does not allow staff to wish their customers Merry Christmas..Shame on you Mr. Otis !!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  32. Anonymous says:

    This has nothing to do with race, this American Greed at its finest. Go Bernie Sanders.

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