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ORLANDO-Life is good these days at locally based Darden Restaurants Inc. Profits, stock price and new-store sales are all up.

The 1,168 seafood store chain closed fiscal 2001 on May 27 of this year with a net earnings of $197 million or $1.59 per share, up 21%, on revenue of $4.02 billion, up 9%.

That performance compared with a profit of $173 million or $1.31 per share on sales of $3.7 billion in fiscal 2000.

Fourth-quarter profit was $61 million or 50 cents a share, up 13%, on sales of $1.08 billion, up 8%. Those numbers compared with fiscal 2000 showing a profit of $58 million or 46 cents per share on sales of $1 billion.

The company’s common stock is trading on the New York Stock Exchange at $26.09 per share, up 28 cents.

In its fourth-quarter report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, company chairman/CEO Joe R. Lee praises the newly expanded, nine-outlet Smokey Bones BBQ Sports Bar division and promises to open 10 more locations in fiscal 2002 in so-far undetermined markets.

Although a sales-earning breakout of the nine existing Smokey Bones locations was not provided in the SEC filing, Lee says in the report the restaurant is receiving “tremendously positive response” from guests and is showing “strong financial dynamics.”

Startup operations in fiscal 2001 were at Aurora, IL, a Chicago suburb; Pontiac, MI near Detroit; Springfield, MA; and Fairview Heights, IL, a St. Louis suburb. A 10th Smokey Bones is scheduled to open on West Colonial Drive in Orlando over the next 12 months.

Bahama Breeze, another relatively new Darden product, opened two restaurants in the fourth quarter, bringing the total locations to 21. The new outlets are in Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Annual sales in fiscal 2001 were $100 million with 14 restaurants open the full year. Another 10 Bahama Breeze openings are anticipated in fiscal 2002.

Besides Smokey Bones and Bahama Breeze, Darden has 661 Red Lobster restaurants, its landmark operation, and 477 Olive Garden units.

The company bought two million shares of its common stock in fourth quarter, bringing the total shares repurchased during the year to 8.4 million. Darden’s annual shareholders meeting is Sept. 20 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel at Orlando International Airport.

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