Lobsters: From trash to treasure

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RED LOBSTER’s Ultimate Treat

SOMETHING big and red is coming to town in November — and it is not an early visit from St. Nick. We’re talking about Red Lobster, of course.

The popular casual dining seafood chain — it has over 745 branches in 11 countries — is arriving in the Philippines, brought here by The Bistro Group, which is behind the local franchises of TGI Friday’s, Denny’s, Texas Roadhouse Grill, and Italianni’s among several others. The first Red Lobster restaurant in the Philippines will open in November at S Maison.

Red Lobster started as a family-owned restaurant in Lakeland, Florida in 1968. Today it is owned by Golden Gate Capital (which, incidentally, also owns California Pizza Kitchen). It first expanded to Japan, and is now found in various locations in North and South America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. According to the company release, “Red Lobster is the world’s largest seafood restaurant company and largest seafood purchaser in the world with the highest market share of all seafood specialist restaurants in America, at 47%.”

“We have seen significant growth in the local economy and restaurant industry, especially with adventurous diners here who are looking to try something out of the ordinary,” Catherine Souders, Red Lobster’s Director of Asia Operations, was quoted as saying in a release given during a press conference on Aug. 24 in Makati.

“Red Lobster has admired The Bistro Group for many years as we have observed their undeniable success growing American, International and local concepts across many categories of the restaurant industry,” Ms. Souders was quoted as saying. “They are truly a world-class organization, and we are thrilled to be part of The Bistro Group portfolio. I believe that their success is built on our shared values and shared commitment to bring great food and excellent service to everyone we serve.

“We are looking forward to satisfying the appetites of families and friends who are out to enjoy the Ultimate Seafood Dining Experience only Red Lobster can deliver.”

Among the restaurant’s best-selling selections is the Ultimate Feast featuring tender Maine lobster tail, steamed wild-caught North American snow crab legs, signature hand-crafted garlic shrimp scampi, and Walt’s Favorite Shrimp. Other dishes include wood-grilled lobster, and a shrimp and fresh salmon combination topped with a brown butter glaze. All entrees come with freshly baked Cheddar Bay Biscuits and endless drink refills.

Just a little bit of trivia: back in the day, lobster wasn’t the treat that it is considered to be today. Before the 1800s, people down the coast of the United States of America thought of lobster as trash food due to the abundance of the crustacean. It was fed only to prisoners and indentured servants, and families who consumed lobsters were too embarrassed even to throw the shells in the trash, and instead buried them to hide their shame. The railway system in the US changed all that, because residents who lived inland had never before experienced the taste of lobster, and were delighted by the treat. Demand grew, which shrank the lobster population, making it the “rare” delicacy that it is today. (

In any case, lobsters and other seafood are abundant here in the Philippines, and this is in fact a source of pride in these islands. How can an American company compete with such a rich seafood tradition?

“We think that expanding into a country that’s already seafood-forward is a good thing for us. Guests understand what good seafood is, or what bad seafood is. Red Lobster’s goal is to deliver sea-to-table quality seafood that’s prepared and served extremely fresh,” said Ms. Souders told BusinessWorld.

While you might skip the local, you’ll at least get the real thing. “Many of our menu species are only available from one part of the world,” said Ms. Souders, like North American Lobster coming from the North Atlantic, and king crab legs available only from Alaska. “We will use the Red Lobster supply chain to bring these items into the Philippines.”

“We’ll supplement the remainder of the menu with local products, where it makes sense.”

Star chef and Bistro Group Executive Chef Joshua Boutwood is on board, and the reason is that there will be tweaks made for locals tastes.

“We will strive to have as much of the menu the same, if not very similar to how it’s delivered in the US. We want guests that come to dine in the Red Lobster in the Philippines to feel like they’re at Red Lobster in Times Square, or Orlando, or Houston,” said Ms. Souders. “Not that the goal is to be absolutely the same, because we do understand that the Filipino guest… might want to see American seafood delivered in a way, or a flavor they’re familiar with. We will take some liberties with adjusting to the local Filipino palate.”

In any case, Ms. Souders said, “People love seafood. It’s cravable, delicious; it’s a celebratory type of food.” — Joseph L. Garcia