Darden CEO Came of Age in L.A.

Clarence Otis Jr.
Clarence Otis Jr. Photo: Darden

While Capital Grille and Seasons 52 are easily lumped in with the recent rush of mall-bound chains coming to Cali from other cities, it turns out the CEO of its holding company, Darden, came up locally. L.A. Times introduces us to Clarence Otis Jr., a Mississippi native who moved to our city at age four and soon settled in Watts. The son of a janitor who never finished high school, today Otis is one of a small number of African-American CEOs running a Fortune 500 company, in his case the “world’s largest full-service restaurant” corporation behind chains like Red Lobster, Capital Grille, and Olive Garden. Writer P.J. Puffstutter cites the Watts uprising and family drives past Beverly Hills mansions as influences on the CEO’s rise and resolve, while Otis himself credits an embrace of both customers and employees (Darden has 180,000). Otis, who currently resides in Orlando, sums up this philosophy when saying, “You can train someone to work in a kitchen. You can train someone on a wine list…But if you don’t get charged up by being around people, then you have no business being in this business.”

Darden Restaurants CEO Clarence Otis Jr. has a lot on his plate [L.A. Times]