Souplantation

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Souplantation / Sweet Tomatoes
TypePrivate
IndustryFood
GenreRestaurant
FateBankruptcy (Chapter 7 liquidation)
Founded1978; 43 years ago (1978)
FoundersDennis Jay
DefunctMay 8, 2020; 8 months ago (2020-05-08)
Headquarters,
USA
Number of locations
97 (March 2020, prior to liquidation)[1]
Area served
United States
Key people
John Haywood (CEO) Don Breen (CFO)
ProductsSalad, soup, bakery, pasta, muffins, soft serve, fruits, vegetables, and other buffet and vegetarian options
Number of employees
4,400 (2020)[1]
ParentPerpetual Capital Partners
Websitesweettomatoes.com
souplantation.com
A long buffet line with a man checking out at the end
A Sweet Tomatoes in Kendall, Florida

Sweet Tomatoes, operating as Souplantation in southern California, was a United States-based chain of all-you-can-eat buffet-style restaurants. The first location opened in 1978 in San Diego, California, where the company was headquartered. The company was incorporated as Garden Fresh Corp. in 1983. The company went public in 1995[2] but was taken private in 2004.[3] The company, owned by Garden Fresh Restaurant Corporation,[4] temporarily closed its 97 locations in March 2020 because of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 7, 2020, the closure was made permanent[5][6] and the company filed for liquidation.

History[edit]

The first Souplantation restaurant opened on Mission Gorge Road in San Diego, in 1978.[7] It was the idea of Dennis Jay, who was a bartender at Springfield Wagon Works, a pioneer in salad bars in El Cajon. Dennis's friends, John Turnbull and Scott King were opening their first Soup and Salad restaurant The Soup Exchange. Dennis was impressed with the new concept and introduced Steve Hohe, the Springfield Restaurant manager and Ron Demery, a bail bondsman and friend of John and Scott. Dennis, Steve and Ron decided to partner to create a parallel concept, the Souplantation. The two concepts grew side by side in a friendly, mutually supportive, yet competitive environment for several years.[8] This restaurant and a second one in Point Loma were purchased in 1983 by Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp, founded by Michael Mack to operate the chain.[8]

The company expanded across the American West and Southwest, and also opened locations in several Southeast states, including 23 restaurants in Florida. All of the restaurants were company-owned.[8]

In 2005, an affiliate of the private investment firm Sun Capital Partners purchased Garden Fresh and with it the restaurant chains.[9] In 2007, a Souplantation restaurant in Orange County, California was linked to an outbreak of E. coli.[10] The restaurant closed temporarily while authorities investigated the outbreak.[11]

In October 2016, Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp, the owner/operator of Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. At the time Garden Fresh was nearly $175 million in debt.[12] In January 2017, the company said it expected to emerge from bankruptcy later that month, following a sale of the company's assets to New York-based private investment firm Cerberus Capital Management L.P. and its partners. Garden Fresh anticipated it would wind up with "between 90 and 104 restaurants" and "significantly less debt".[13] In 2017, Garden Fresh and its restaurant chains were purchased by the New York private investment firm Cerberus Capital Management.[14]

In March 2020, all of the restaurants had to close temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[15] On May 7, 2020, the company announced it would be closing all Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes locations permanently amid concerns that new federal guidelines recommending an end to self-serve stations would prevent local health departments from granting permits to restaurants with salad bars and buffets.[16]

Garden Fresh Restaurants, the parent company to both Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, filed for Chapter 7 liquidation with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court the following week on May 14.[1] At the time of the announcement, the company had 4,400 employees and 97 restaurants.[1]

Format[edit]

Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes restaurants specialized in fresh salads and soups, offering a large salad bar, homestyle soup, and pasta, as well as bread, muffins, cornbread, and pizza, baked on the premises.

The salad bar offered a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, croutons, and other salad condiments, as well as a few prepared featured salads, which changed monthly. Other sections included up to eight soup selections, a small bakery offering muffins, cornbread, pizza Foccacia, and baked potatoes, a pasta section with a few different plates of pasta and sauces, and a dessert section offering fruit, puddings, and soft-serve ice cream. Featured menu items were rotated monthly often along a theme. Themes, named according to the type of food being served, included Asian, Greek, Italian, and Customer Favorites.

The company's home city of San Diego often served as a test market for new ideas and innovations, and was home to Souplantation's corporate offices. For example, some Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes locations were open on Sunday mornings for breakfast. In 2011, the company launched its first quick-serve restaurant, called Souplantation Express, in Carlsbad, California.[17]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Maze, Jonathan (May 15, 2020). "The owner of Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy: Garden Fresh Restaurants opts for liquidation rather than reopening its buffet-centric restaurants due to coronavirus restrictions". Restaurant Business.
  2. ^ Brooks, Nancy Rivera (May 29, 1995). "Souplantation is putting stock in a piping hot future". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 293171753.
  3. ^ "Garden Fresh completes move to private ownership". San Diego Union-Tribune. March 11, 2004. ProQuest 272317632.
  4. ^ "Company Overview of Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp". Bloomberg News. Retrieved June 1, 2020.
  5. ^ Weisberg, Lori (May 7, 2020). "Souplantation's buffet-style restaurants closing for good due to the coronavirus". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
  6. ^ Stone, Ken (May 7, 2020). "San Diego-Based Souplantation Closing Permanently, CEO Tells Paper". Times of San Diego.
  7. ^ Weisberg, Lori; Peterson, Lucas Kwan (May 8, 2020). "Souplantation's buffet-style restaurants closing for good because of the coronavirus". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 2399572543. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
  8. ^ a b c "Our Company". Soup Plantation. November 10, 2008. Retrieved November 10, 2008.
  9. ^ "Investors Buy Sweet Tomatoes, Souplantation". South Florida Business Journal. October 21, 2005. Retrieved March 10, 2012.
  10. ^ Reza, H.G. (April 8, 2007). "O.C. closes restaurant tied to E. coli cases". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 422174981.
  11. ^ "Two More E. Coli Cases Reported In Orange County". KGTV. April 8, 2007. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016.
  12. ^ Rizzo, Lillian & Fitzgerald, Patrick (October 3, 2016). "Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp Files for Bankruptcy". Wall Street Journal. ProQuest 1825233091. Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  13. ^ De Crescenzo, Sarah (January 10, 2017). "Struggling Garden Fresh to Sell Assets to N.Y. Investment Firm". San Diego Business Journal. Retrieved January 11, 2017.
  14. ^ Maze, Jonathan (January 10, 2017). "Cerberus acquires Garden Fresh". Nation's Restaurant News. Retrieved June 12, 2018.
  15. ^ Haywood, John (March 10, 2020). "CEO Message To Our Valued Guests". Sweet Tomatoes. Archived from the original on May 8, 2020. Retrieved April 25, 2020.
  16. ^ Bucchino, Rachel (May 8, 2020). "Buffet restaurant chain Souplantation closing for good due to coronavirus". The Hill. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
  17. ^ "Souplantation debuts a quick-serve dining option". San Diego Union-Tribune. January 16, 2011.

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