To successfully support a restaurant empire nowadays, a company needs one hell of a corporate headquarters.
That's exactly what Darden (DRI - Get Report) , which operates over 1,500 restaurants spanning seven brands, such as Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, has tucked away in Orlando, Fla. Opened in 2009, Darden's 469,000-square-foot headquarters houses 1,000 employees, multiple test kitchens, a social media war room, a rather large gym and common areas for employees to plop down and exchange ideas. The company says it purposely widened the building's staircases to allow for impromptu conversations, without interrupting the movement of others. It also designed the building with only three floors, so everyone could move throughout the facility more quickly.
TheStreet recently received a tour of the facility.
You are greeted right away with a wall detailing Darden's impressive history.
That is Bill Darden on the left, the company's founder. The plaque on the wall shares one of his most important quotes, from 1973: "I am convinced that the only competitive edge we have on our competitors is the quality of our employees as reflected each day by the job they do."
Bill Darden opened his first restaurant in 1938 at the age of 19. It was called The Green Frog.
The first Red Lobster, which was part of a Darden until it was sold in 2014, opened in 1968 in Lakeland, Fla.
The corporate gym features inspirational messages on the wall. Such motivational messages are scattered throughout the facility.
The giant commons area.
This is one of a few offices with a kitchen in the back that helps come up with new product ideas. Each of Darden's seven brands has a test kitchen.
The former Red Lobster test kitchen now houses a display area to try out the latest and greatest in kitchenware.
More motivational sayings in the commons area.
Even more uplifting quotes by the elevators, this one by Bill Darden.
This plaque was actually outside of the first Red Lobster. Take note that the chain was once called Red Lobster Inns of America.
These super large photos of Darden's employees are scattered throughout the building as a way to remind the company that its front-line workers make it all happen. This idea came at the suggestion of Darden's current CEO Gene Lee, who has led a strong turnaround of the company since taking over in 2014.
Darden's social media war room. Olive Garden has over 356,000 Twitter followers, just an FYI.
Can't visit Darden without trying a piece of steak from Longhorn Steakhouse.
Here we are last year trying out Olive Garden's epic new spaghetti pies.