By the time he was eight, Charley Woodsby was contributing to the family farm in Spartanburg, SC, by milking cows, picking cotton, gathering blackberries.
Within a few years he discovered he had a love and a flair for food. Stints in the restaurant business in New York and Atlanta and associations with Bill Darden and Truett Cathy prepared the way. Eventually he made it to Florida, where he helped grow Gary’s Duck Inn into a successful family dinner venue.
Increasingly he had a vision for a simple, affordable seafood family restaurant, and Red Lobster was born—50 years ago. To celebrate those 50 years, Charley and his long-time chef, Dan Drayer, produced a photo storybook telling and showing the history of Red Lobster.
My husband, Steve, and I recently had dinner with Charley and MaryLou at a more recent seafood effort, Moonfish. The food and service were stellar, and Charley’s stories were delightful.
I love history and I love the stories of those who lived history. Charley’s book, Red Lobster: The Beginning, tells the story well, and the pictures are fascinating. I especially love the pictures of Central Florida, where I have spent much of my life. And the recipes!!
Charley and his wife, Jean, raised their family in the restaurant industry. Red Lobster grew and grew. The children grew also, taking increasing responsibility in the family business.
In 1970 Charley and his partner sold Red Lobster to General Mills. They both signed a 3-year management contract, and at the end of that contract, Charley made a decision to retire.
But he soon became restless and after one-year of retirement formed a partnership with his son Ron known as Talk of the Town Restaurant Group. They have 6 concepts: Charley’s Steak House, Fish Bones, Moonfish, Johnnie’s Hideaway, Vito’s Chop House and Texas Cattle Company.
During this time of growing success, Charley’s heart was broken at the death of his beloved Jean in 2004. His children and grandchildren provided great comfort. And his relationship with God was a deep solace.
Soon Charley met MaryLou, and they were married in 2007. She has continued as a vital partner with Charley.
As the business expanded, so did Charley’s desire to invest in God’s Kingdom. One of His favorite charities has been the Jesus Film.
“Charley and I are committed to spreading the gospel,” according to MaryLou. “We both feel it is the single most important thing a person can do while on this earth. We also feel that the Jesus Film is the absolute best tool that is available.
“Two years ago we funded a translation in Peru and went to the premiere showing of the film. When we saw the people weeping, we were so grateful we made that investment. When these people heard Jesus speaking to them for the first time and in their native language, they felt He was their God as well and that he loved them. There was nothing better than witnessing their joy.
“We are thrilled to be on this journey with the Lord and being a part of what He is doing through the Jesus Film,” MaryLou affirmed.
Charley has retired from the restaurant business, which is carried on by son Ron. Charley focuses on the Woodsby Foundation, which supports underprivileged children and families in Central Florida, and religious organizations that share the message of faith in God, on which he’s built his life.
“I feel that all my life God has directed me,” Charley said. “Everything I have I owe to God. He has been with me every step of the way. My goal in life has been to help those in need and share the message of the Gospel. Hopefully, I will leave this earth a better place because of what I did and who I was.”
Now he is spending his time promoting his book, which has required developing a new skill: public speaking. So far it is not his favorite activity, but it is growing on him. Especially because all the profits from the book will go to charity, including The Jesus Film.
You can order the book on Amazon.