Clifford Pleau, who, as I told you last week, recently left Darden Restaurants, has accepted the position of vice president of research and development at Bloomin’ Brands in Tampa. Initially he will be focusing on that company’s Bonefish Grill chain of seafood restaurants.
Pleau, 53, joined Darden in 2002 to develop its Seasons 52 concept. But he told me recently that the Darden that he started working with 12 years ago is not the company that exists today. It’s no secret that the organization has been going through some upheavals that have seen it spin off its Red Lobster brand and caused CEO Clarence Otis to announce that he’ll leave the company later this year. Pleau said that he was asked to retire from the company and to sign a noncompete agreement. He told them no (I’m paraphrasing) and so he was fired.
It would be difficult to overstate the influence that Pleau has had on dining in Central Florida. He and his manager at California Grill, George Miliotes, introduced many in the area to upscale casual dining. Pleau said that he and Miliotes were initially paired as a team because they made a good match “on paper,” sort of like a precursor to online matchmaking. They were such a good team that Darden lured both of them away to work on the Seasons 52 concept. Miliotes, a master sommelier, remains at Darden and now oversees the wine programs across the company’s other brands, including Capital Grille and Eddie V’s, which both have ambitious wine lists.
Pleau starts his new job on Friday.