Fans of the Sweet Tomatoes chain of buffet-style salad bar restaurants were rocked to the news Thursday that the chain will be permanently shuttering all of its restaurants, since ownership says the business model cannot be sustained in a world changed by the coronavirus.
Parent company Souplantation, as the restaurants are known in California, will close its 97 restaurants nationwide, leaving 4,400 workers unemployed.
Sweet Tomatoes, which had an Osceola County location near U.S. Highway 192 and State Road 429 and another nearby on State Road 535 at I-4, was 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 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,” Garden Fresh CEO John Haywood told The San Diego 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.”
Haywood cited Georgia — one of the first states to reopen its businesses — in assessing Souplantation’s grim chances of survival. “Among the 39 regulations to reopen was that salad bars and buffets be discontinued,” he said.