Souplantation's buffet-style restaurants closing for good becauseof the coronavirus
On 5/11/20 7:54 PM, Leroy N. Soetoro wrote:
SAN DIEGO Souplantation, the popular buffet-style dining brand founded
in San Diego 42 years ago, is closing all of its restaurants permanently,
a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic that is likely to be the death knell
for all self-serve eateries.
The permanent closing of the 97 restaurants, including 44 in California,
was announced Thursday after weeks of efforts to salvage San Diego-based
Garden Fresh Restaurants, the parent company of Souplantation and Sweet
Tomatoes. The closing will mean lost jobs for 4,400 employees.
The FDA had previously put out recommendations that included
discontinuing self-serve stations, like self-serve beverages in fast food,
but they specifically talked about salad bars and buffets, said John
Haywood, chief executive of Garden Fresh. The regulations are
understandable, but unfortunately, it makes it very difficult to reopen.
And Im not sure the health departments are ever going to allow it.
We couldve overcome any other obstacle, and weve worked for eight weeks
to overcome these intermittent financial challenges, but it doesnt work
if we are not allowed to continue our model.
The closure comes as restaurants in California and across the country
struggle to remain financially solvent amid a pandemic shutdown that has
forced eateries to close dining rooms while allowing only curbside pickup
and delivery. That sort of temporary pivot didnt work for Souplantation,
known for its affordable all-you-can-eat signature salad bar, house-made
soups, focaccia pizza, baked goods, baked potato bar, pastas, soft serve
ice cream and beverage bar.
The Garden Fresh restaurants swift drop in revenue, as fears about the
coronavirus grew in February and March, was even more precipitous than at
other eateries, given the buffet concept, said Robert Allbritton, chairman
of Perpetual Capital Partners, a Washington, D.C., private investment firm
that purchased the restaurant company following a bankruptcy filing in
We spent two years researching and trying to improve things and actually
got the business turned around, Allbritton said. We were growing the
number of guests and were in the process of renovating the restaurants
with new fixtures, carpeting, signage as late as January. We felt great
about it. But Ive got to tell you, when the virus hit, we went from 100%
to 70 to 30 to 10% that fast, before the restaurants closed down and the
company ran out of money in one week.
Allbritton said that he wrote a check five weeks ago for $2.5 million to
help cover the final payroll.
We looked at the [federal] Paycheck Protection Program, but even with
that we didnt see how we could reopen the restaurants. We cant take that
money, its just disingenuous.
Started in 1978, Garden Fresh originated as a single San Diego
Souplantation location and, in 1986, expanded to the broader Southern
California region, which continues to remain the core of the business. In
1990, the company moved beyond its local roots with a Palm Harbor, Fla.,
location under a separate brand name, Sweet Tomatoes, which itself grew to
In its more than four decades in business, Souplantation developed a
loyal, almost fanatical following. Loved by many looking for a cheap meal,
it became a frequent dining destination for college kids, immigrants and
those on fixed incomes.
Today is a sad day for buffet-obsessed immigrant families, wrote Jenny
Yang on Twitter. You always fed me when I had little money and needed a
place to sit and listen to angsty music, wrote another user.
Haywood cited Georgia one of the first states to reopen its businesses
in assessing Souplantations grim chances of survival. Among the 39
regulations to reopen was that salad bars and buffets be discontinued.
All restaurants face an enormous challenge right now. Our challenge is
somewhat doubled by the fact that were a salad bar and buffet, he said.
My personal opinion is that until there is a vaccine, many things like
buffets and salad bars will have a very difficult time running and being
Weisberg writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
I suggested a while back that all restaurants have a glass wall between
the dining area and the kitchen and I made that suggestion to make
health inspections superfluous and extinct.... add to that, that they
should have separate ventilation systems and that kitchen ventilation
should be a negative pressure system to stop the spread of infectious
diseases. And I think that the food industry should consider a kitchen
UV light that will flood the kitchen with UV and use it in the kitchens
whenever they're NOT in use for a long enough period to kill virus and
The reason I was discussing this at the time was that with that glass
wall we would no longer need health inspections as people eating there
would be doing the inspecting and if the Cooks don't do things in a
clean and healthy manner in the kitchen in an acceptable way no one will
stay there and eat. And along with security cameras to view the
kitchens, no one will spit in your food.
Well, there's a new reason for this idea, the virus, we can see if
people look sick in the kitchen and at the same time people in the
restaurant won't spread any germs to the kitchen.
The building of the restaurant can be done so that no health inspections
are necessary, start by having the kitchens separate from the food pick
up by the serving staff (never the two shall cross while cooking) and
also the busing of tables and the dish-washing is is separate from the
kitchen.... so no dirty plates ever enter the kitchen cooking area.
All that is accomplished by the building safety codes NOT health
inspectors. A safe Restaurant has a flow the same as plumbing or foot
traffic in an EMERGENCY so that when you look at the flow of food and
virus and pathogens in food service, there should be hard and fast rules
in their design. And this would be more likely in a high density city
environment rather than a rural area because you look at numbers and
capacity of the business so that they can't cause an overwhelming of
their local hospitals with any type of infectious diseases.
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