ORLANDO, FLA. – Darden Restaurants Inc. has entered into a development agreement with Americana Group to develop and operate Darden's Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse brands in the Middle East. Americana will initially develop a minimum of 60 restaurants in Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates over the next five years.

"Today is an exciting milestone in Darden's history," said Clarence Otis, chairman and CEO of Darden. "We've been exploring international expansion for some time now as part of our ongoing focus on additional growth opportunities. The Middle East is an attractive, growing market that has shown a strong affinity for American brands, especially American dining brands.

"Darden remains committed to owning and operating its restaurants domestically,” he added. “However, we believe the best way for us to expand the reach of our portfolio internationally is by selecting the right partners, like Americana, with outstanding operations experience, local market knowledge, and the commitment to delivering our brands' experience with excellence."

Americana is the largest foodservice franchise operator in the Middle East operating more than 1,200 restaurants throughout the region. The company has a long history of franchising familiar U.S.-based brands including KFC, Pizza Hut, Hardee's, Krispy Kreme and TGI Friday's.

"We are delighted to welcome Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse to our family," said Marzouk Al Kharafi, Americana chairman and managing director. "Consumer demand for casual dining brands in the Middle East market has grown over the past decade, and we expect that growth to continue in the future. The addition of these three highly regarded brands to our portfolio enables Americana to build on its long legacy as the leading restaurant operator in the region."

As the world's largest full-service restaurant company, Darden Restaurants Inc. owns and operates 1,800 restaurants that generate more than $7 billion in annual sales.

Americana, a publicly traded company on the Kuwait Stock Exchange, is the Middle East's most successful group of companies operating consumer foods, restaurants and food-related products. The Americana Group operates more than 1,200 restaurants with more than 45,000 employees from 21 nationalities across 14 countries between the Atlantic Ocean and Caspian Sea. It operates international franchises like TGI Friday's, Krispy Kreme, Costa coffee, KFC, Pizza Hut and Hardee's.

The Americana Group's portfolio also includes a wide range of consumer foods manufactured in 17 factories in five different countries and marketed across the region with well-known names like Americana Meat.