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Red Lobster's owner once said the business left such a 'big scar' on him that he had to 'stop eating lobster'

Kwan Wei Kevin Tan   

Red Lobster's owner once said the business left such a 'big scar' on him that he had to 'stop eating lobster'
  • Thai Union CEO Thiraphong Chansiri doesn't want to have anything to do with lobsters anymore.
  • His company assumed a majority stake in Red Lobster in 2020, which filed for bankruptcy in May.

Thai Union CEO Thiraphong Chansiri, 58, might have once been a big believer in the Red Lobster seafood chain.

But owning Red Lobster left such a "big scar" on Chansiri that he told investors in February that he was swearing off lobsters forever.

"Other people stop eating beef. I'm going to stop eating lobster," Chansiri said in an earnings call — a possible reference to how some followers of Buddhism prefer not to consume beef and other meat products.

On May 19, Red Lobster said in a statement that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after it sustained major operating losses in 2023. Red Lobster said its restaurants will "remain open and operating as usual during the Chapter 11 process."

Chansiri, a Thai business executive, might have studied business administration in the US, but an ancient Chinese practice known as feng shui appeared to have a huge influence on how he ran Red Lobster as well.

Feng shui, which means "wind" and "water" in Chinese, focuses on achieving harmony between an environment and its inhabitants.

Former Red Lobster executives told CNN in a story published Saturday that Chansiri consulted a feng shui consultant named Angel when he visited their headquarters in 2022.

Chansiri decided to leave Red Lobster's executive offices empty after Angel said the rooms had bad feng shui, CNN reported, citing a former Red Lobster executive.

Thai Union didn't respond to questions raised by CNN about the allegations raised in their story. Representatives for Thai Union didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from BI sent outside regular business hours.

Much speculation has swirled around why Red Lobster filed for bankruptcy. For one, the seafood chain's ill-fated decision to make its "Endless Shrimp" deal a daily promotion backfired, leaving it with operating losses of $11 million and $12.5 million in the third and fourth quarters of 2023 respectively.

But Red Lobster's fall also cast a spotlight on the damage private equity firms can inflict on portfolio companies.

In 2014, longtime Red Lobster owner Darden Restaurants sold the company to Golden Gate Capital for $2.1 billion. The investment firm financed the purchase by selling off Red Lobster's real-estate holdings. Red Lobster's operation costs went up as it now had to lease its restaurants instead.

Then, in 2020, Thai Union assumed majority ownership of Red Lobster after Golden Gate Capital sold its remaining equity stake to them.

But the change in ownership brought little relief to Red Lobster. The company has seen frequent turnover in its executive ranks.

In fact, the company just onboarded its latest CEO. Turnaround expert Jonathan Tibus was named CEO in March, making him Red Lobster's third CEO since 2021.

Last week, Tibus questioned the "outsized influence" that Thai Union had on Red Lobster's shrimp purchasing. Besides owning them, Thai Union is also Red Lobster's key seafood supplier.

Tibus accused Red Lobster's then-interim CEO Paul Kenny of straining Red Lobster's supply chain when he axed two shrimp suppliers "in apparent coordination with Thai Union."

A Thai union spokesperson previously told BI's Meghan Morris that Tibus' allegations are "meritless."

"Thai Union has a been a supplier to Red Lobster for more than 30 years, and we intend for that relationship to continue," the company said.

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