Friday, May 8, 2020

[NO SOUP FOR YOU!] Sweet Tomatoes Likely Done For Good With CEO Seeing no "Viable Way to Reopen"

Popular salad buffet chain Sweet Tomatoes has (likely) closed permanently.  Founded and based in San Diego since 1978 and today owned by Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., all 97 Sweet Tomatoes & sibling Souplantation restaurants nationwide have been closed since March 16 in response to the spread of COVID-19.  SanDiegoVille, a San Diego-based publication, cited several social media postings of now (former) Garden Fresh employees confirming the closure, but it was not until a report by Jonathan Maze of Restaurant Business that included an interview with company CEO John Haywood that the details of the situation were revealed.  
Garden Fresh filed for bankruptcy and closed dozens of restaurants in 2016, emerged from bankruptcy in 2017, and was purchased by Perpetual Capital Partners, a Washington D.C.-based investment firm.  In the years since, the company has logged three straight fiscal years of increasing guest counts and was in the middle of remodeling all of its locations.  The company, enthused by the early results of remodels and improving health of the business, had also planned to open two to four new units in 2021.  The COVID-19 crisis essentially stopped the company in its tracks.  

While some restaurants, primarily those in the fast food space, were able to maintain some semblance of  normal business, sit down and other restaurants had a harder time pivoting to adapt to new norms and service limitations in the wake of the pandemic.  Perhaps hit hardest were buffets, with many states who had permitted some businesses to reopen banning buffets from operating at all, indefinitely.

“Given FDA regulations, we don’t think we could reopen any time this year,” Haywood said in his interview with Restaurant Business. “You start thinking about both the expense to maintain it and reopen it, and it becomes difficult to imagine.” Haywood added.

In metro Atlanta, there were four Sweet Tomatoes: Alpharetta, Duluth, Kennesaw & Sandy Springs.  

The Alpharetta (North Point Drive), Kennesaw (Ernest Barrett Parkway) and Sandy Springs (Peachtree Duwnoody Road) locations all present interesting back-fill and redevelopment opportunities.  The Duluth location, on Mall Boulevard near Gwinnett Place Mall, is likely the least attractive redevelopment or back-fill candidate.  

The loss of Sweet Tomatoes evokes memories of Lettuce Souprise You, an Atlanta-based operator of similarly formatted salad buffet restaurants.  The chain, which ceased to exist about six years ago, once had several locations across metro Atlanta including outposts in south Buckhead, Loehmann's Plaza (now Brighten Park), Cumberland Mall, Alpharetta, Midtown and Sandy Springs, among others.  

Will you miss Sweet Tomatoes?  Are you a fan of buffets?  What restaurant/concept are you most worried about during this time of significant upheaval?  

Please share your thoughts below.  

11 comments:

Emma said...

I actually will miss Sweet Tomatoes--the one in Duluth is near my office and it was a nice place to go for lunch. Their brownies were especially terrific...such nice melting chocolate chips on them [drools]. And they had really great Asian salad with crunchy wonton bits and broccoli salad as well.

Also, WOW, Lettuce Souprise You, I LOVED that place as a kid. We went to the Loehmann's Plaza one. Pretty sure they had some sort of chocolate muffin thing going on too that was really good as well. (I really like chocolate, clearly, lol.)

Anonymous said...

Speaking of buffets, does anyone remember "Peoples?" It was a buffet style restaurant in the parking lot of then K-Mart, now Sam's at Clairmont and I-85. Not much of a buffet fan, but I used to like going there as a kid.

Sadlebred said...

Emma--the Lettuce Surprise you chocolate chip muffins were so good! Whole Foods has a pretty good copy of them.

Anonymous said...

I remember Peoples, lived up the street at Post Place. Enjoyed the food and back in the day of those fantastic happy hour days, Peoples was a place to visit.

Anonymous said...

Not a big fan of buffets in general but liked Sweet Tomatoes. Went to the Alpharetta location and it was always good. Sad....

Anonymous said...

I seriously loved Sweet Tomatoes. Probably because I have such fond memories of Lettuce Souprise You as a kid. The gluten free options at Sweet Tomatoes were on point, and as always they're bakery and soups were delicious. It will be sorely missed.

Anonymous said...

Worked as a busboy at the Lettuce Surprise You at Rio Mall North Ave (with the golden frogs surrounding the globe sculpture)....fun times and GREAT muffins!

Anonymous said...

I remember the Peoples but our family never seemed to eat there. We ate at the Farmer Johns on Lavista near Cheshire Bridge. Also loved Po Folks when it was on Buford Hwy.

Unknown said...

I always thought the joke was that they had sneeze guards on the line - yeah, that protects you.

Anonymous said...

How does Sweet Tomatoes go out and Golden Corral stay in?

Jml813 said...

Golden Corral's not doing much better. But sweet tomatoes have been in bankruptcy for quite some time. GC is franchised also...

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