ORLANDO -- Darden Restaurants reported higher sales for the fourth quarter and announced a long-awaited plan to spin off its restaurant portfolio into a publicly traded real estate investment trust.
The Orlando-based restaurant company showed modest growth at its Olive Garden chain, improving same-restaurant sales by 1.3 percent, while LongHorn Steakhouse sales were up 4.4 percent. Overall sales at Darden were up nearly 14 percent for the quarter to $1.88 billion and profits improved by 22 percent to $105.3 million, or 92 cents a share. Darden's fiscal year ended on May 31.
But the sales bump at Olive Garden restaurants came as traffic dropped in April and May. The improvements were mostly due to higher prices.
The real estate decision, long clamored for by investors, would put Darden's nearly 1,200 restaurant buildings on a stock exchange and the company would lease back those sites. That real estate investment trust would become an independent, publicly traded company.
The company has already put about 75 restaurant sites on the market in a test case and sold 30 of those. It has also listed its Darden headquarters. Darden hopes to finish the real estate deal by the end of 2015. For the year, Darden's net income improved to $709.5 million, or $1.30 a share, and sales, including new restaurants, were up 7.6 percent to $6.74 billion.
Bradenton-based United Systems, Entech to merge
BRADENTON -- United Systems, a Bradenton-based IT consulting and solutions company, has entered into a partnership with Fort Myers-based Entech Computer Services, said David Spire, CEO of United Systems. The new entity, known as Entech, will expand its onsite service area from the Tampa Bay area south to Marco Island. It will also continue to remotely support clients nationwide.
United System's 13-member team will merge with Entech's 16 engineers, administrators, advisers and strategists. Spire will maintain an ownership interest in Entech as chief development officer and senior executive vice president. The combined company plans to add several new jobs in the immediate future.
United Systems has established itself as a leader in managed IT services, internet security and cloud computing, especially in terms of security for the medical field, and has grown its revenues and staff even during times of economic uncertainty. Entech brings resources for serving the manufacturing industry, which is growing rapidly across Florida.
On June 16, Entech was presented a Small Business of the Year award by the Bonita Springs Chamber of Commerce for community involvement. United Systems was honored with the Manatee Chamber of Commerce's Small Business of the Year award in July 2011.
Motorworks Brewing to introduce new pale beer
BRADENTON -- Motorworks Brewing Company will introduce a new, "hazy pale yellow" beer on Thursday.
The Bradenton brewery's version of the French-Style Saison has "strong spicy phenols and fruity pear esters on the nose," the company said in a statement. The beer starts with a peppery taste and finishes with flavors reminiscent of lemon peel.
The blend of flavors makes for a "balanced and delightful brew in the hot summer months," according to the Motorworks release.
Upcoming brew plans at Motorworks include a Raspberry Vanilla Donut Experiment, a Moonlight Mile Sweet Stout and a Lavender Ale.
AC & heating firm holding hiring event next week
SARASOTA -- CareerSource Suncoast will pair with Tri-County Air Conditioning and Heating from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday to host a hiring event at the CareerSource Suncoast Sarasota Career Center, 3660 N. Washington Blvd.
Interviews will be held for HVAC technicians, with pay ranging from $17 to $22 an hour.
Before the event, register on employflorida.com and email resumes to firstname.lastname@example.org. The employer will conduct background checks, motor vehicle checks and drug screening.
-- Herald staff, wire reports