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ORLANDO-With record first-quarter sales and profit on the books, locally based Darden Restaurants Inc., Orlando’s only Fortune 500 company, plans to open an estimated one million sf of new restaurant space in fiscal 2003, company chairman Joe R. Lee tells shareholders at the firm’s annual meeting at Gaylord Palms Resort, Kissimmee, FL.

The world’s largest casual seafood dining chain (1,216 restaurants) has about 25 Smokey Bones outlets, 12 Red Lobsters and five Bahama Breezes on the drawing boards. Darden now operates 30 Bahama Breezes, 21 Smokey Bones, 669 Red Lobsters and 496 Olive Gardens.

Darden officials couldn’t be reached to learn the specific amount of new restaurant space being planned. But area retail consultants, intimate with Darden’s growth pattern, tell GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity the planned 12 new Red Lobsters would be about 30,000 sf each; Smokey Bones, about 22,000 sf each; and Bahama Breezes, about 20,000 sf each.

Darden had a total 1,173 restaurants in 2001. First-quarter financials for the period ended Aug. 25 show the company posted its strongest performance in its 35-year existence. Profit of $71.9 million or 40 cents per share compared to $62.2 million or 34 cents a share last year.

Sales of $1.17 billion were up 9.4% from $1.07 billion in first quarter 2001. Sales at restaurants open at least one year were up 6.6%. Darden opened 16 new restaurants in the quarter.

“We had a great start to the new fiscal year with our strong first quarter financial results,” Lee told shareholders.

Patting his workforce on the back, Lee said, “These results, like the long-term success we’ve enjoyed, speak to the power of the unique blend of strengths Darden has within casual dining. We have the best people in the country.”

Darden’s common opened at $23.97 per share today on the New York Stock Exchange, down from $24.10 yesterday. The stock’s 52-week high-low is $29.76 and $15.83 per share.

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