Darden Restaurants Inc. said Dave Pickens, chief restaurant operations officer since July, will retire effective May 23.

A spokesman for Orlando, Fla.-based Darden, which made the Pickens announcement in a one-sentence document filed Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, said, “The company has no plans to fill that role after Dave’s retirement at the end of the fiscal year.”

Darden has been facing sales challenges at its two largest brands, Red Lobster and Olive Garden, and pressure from activist investors to take steps beyond the spinoff or sale of Red Lobster announced in December. The company also has pledged to trim corporate administrative costs by as much as $50 million by fiscal 2015.

Rich Jeffers, Darden’s director of communications, said Wednesday that Pickens started working for Red Lobster as a 17-year-old line cook in 1973 “and worked his way up through the ranks to lead Olive Garden and then Red Lobster before moving into his current role as Chief Restaurant Operations Officer.”

Pickens was promoted from president of Red Lobster to chief restaurant operations officer in July 2013, succeeding Valerie Insignares, who had been named president of Darden’s LongHorn Steakhouse division.

Pickens held a variety of roles in his 40 years with the company, including Red Lobster manager trainee, general manager, regional operations manager, director of operations and division senior vice president. He moved to Olive Garden in 1995 as senior vice president of operations for the Orlando division and was named president of the brand in September 1999.

In October 2008, as Olive Garden president, Pickens was named Operator of the Year by Nation’s Restaurant News at its MUFSO conference.

Pickens rejoined Red Lobster in 2011 as the concept’s president.

“Dave’s success story has inspired countless Darden careers…” Darden spokesman Jeffers added. “Dave has been an invaluable partner in leadership across the enterprise and he will be sincerely missed as a colleague and friend by all who knew him.”

Darden owns and operates more than 2,100 restaurants, including Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s and Yard House.

This story has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 30, 2014
  An earlier version of this story misstated Dave Pickens' name.

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
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