Coronavirus: Sweet Tomatoes permanently closing 97 restaurants
Sweet Tomatoes, the buffet chain known for its endless soup and salad bar, is permanently closing its 97 restaurants nationwide.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Thursday the closures will put some 4,400 employees out of work.
“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,” John Haywood, CEO of Garden Fresh, the parent company of Sweet Tomatoes and its sister buffet chain Souplantation, said in an interview with the Union-Tribune.
“The regulations are understandable, but unfortunately, it makes it very difficult to reopen. And I’m not sure the health departments are ever going to allow it.
“We could’ve overcome any other obstacle, and we’ve worked for eight weeks to overcome these intermittent financial challenges but it doesn’t work if we are not allowed to continue our model.”
The mass shuttering comes at an already tumultuous time for the restaurant industry.
The latest data from the National Restaurant Association paints a dismal picture. Nationwide, the industry has lost two-thirds of its workforce, more than 8 million jobs, due to COVID-19 closures. That's according to an April survey of more than 6,500 restaurants. The industry lost $30 billion in March and is on track to record $50 billion in lost sales for April. An estimated 40% of restaurants across the country have closed.
On Thursday, the Labor Department revealed 3.2 million unemployment claims were filed last week, bringing the 7-week total to above 33 million. Retail giants such as J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, and fitness brand Gold's Gym are among the companies that have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections since the pandemic's onset.
The Sweet Tomatoes in south Fort Myers opened in 1997, according to articles from The News-Press archives. Stories tell of long lines, a 108-item salad buffet and all-you-can-eat baked goods and hot entrees. The North Naples location opened in spring 2010.
Established as Garden Fresh restaurant in San Diego in 1976, the company grew throughout Southern California in the 1980s, then expanded to Florida in 1990 with a restaurant in Palm Harbor. Sweet Tomatoes had 23 locations in Florida prior to its closure.