|Headquarters||San Diego, California, USA|
Number of locations
|104 (October 2016)|
|Products||Salad, Soup, Stew, Lemonade, Strawberry Lemonade, Pasta, Muffins, Soft Serve, Fruits, Vegetables, and other buffet and vegan options.|
Souplantation is a United States-based chain of all-you-can-eat buffet-style restaurants. The first Souplantation opened in 1978 in San Diego, California, where the company is headquartered. The company was incorporated as Garden Fresh Corp. in 1983. The company went public in 1995 but was taken private in 2004. Outside of southern California, Souplantation operates under the name Sweet Tomatoes. The company is owned by Garden Fresh Restaurant Corporation.
The first Souplantation restaurant opened on Mission Gorge Road in San Diego, in 1978. It was the idea of Dennis Jay, who was a bartender at the Bull & Bear in El Cajon. He had a dream and discussed with two friends of his: an attorney and a bail bondsman. This restaurant and a second one were purchased in 1983 by Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., founded by Michael Mack to operate the chain.
The company has expanded across the American West and Southwest, as well as opened locations in several Southeast states, including 23 restaurants in Florida. All of the restaurants are company-owned.
In 2005, an affiliate of the private investment firm Sun Capital Partners purchased Garden Fresh and with it the restaurant chains. As of October 2016, 104 locations remain in operation throughout the United States.
Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes restaurants specialize in fresh salads and soups, offering a large salad bar, homestyle soup, and pasta, as well as bread, muffins, and pizza, baked on the premises. They are open for lunch and dinner.
The salad bar offers a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, croutons, and other salad condiments, as well as a few prepared featured salads, which change monthly. Other sections include up to eight soup selections, a small bakery offering muffins and pizza foccacia, a pasta section with a few different pastas and sauces, and a dessert section offering fruit, puddings, and soft-serve ice cream. Featured menu items are rotated monthly often along a theme, while the standard offering remains unchanged. Themes, named according to the type of food being served, include Asian, Greek, Italian, and Customer Favorites.
The company's home city of San Diego often serves as a test market for new ideas and innovations, and is home to Souplantation's corporate offices. For example, some Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes locations are open Sunday mornings for breakfast. In 2011, the company launched its first quick-serve restaurant, called Souplantation Express, in Carlsbad, California.
In mass media
In October 2016, Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp, the owner/operator of Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. At the time Garden Fresh was nearly $175 million in debt. In January 2017 the company said it expects 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 anticipates it will wind up with "between 90 and 104 restaurants" and "significantly less debt".
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