Sweet Tomatoes Bounces Back From Bankruptcy (And Opens New Locations in 2024)

NEWS & TRENDING - SHOPPING & DEALS NEWS
Rediscover your love for freshness as Sweet Tomatoes springs back to life.
Updated May 9, 2024
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While many buffet restaurants get a bad rap for tacky decor and soggy food wilting under heat lamps, regional chain Sweet Tomatoes breaks the mold. 

It offers soup, pizza, pasta, focaccia bread, and its legendary chocolate lava cake, allowing diners to eat well and get ahead financially.

Sadly, the chain filed for bankruptcy in 2020, shutting the doors of its 97 locations throughout the West, Southeast, and Southwest.

Loyal diners everywhere were devastated. Luckily, three years later, Sweet Tomatoes is mounting a comeback. Here’s what you need to know about the iconic chain and its fresh restart.

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The back story

CL-Medien/Adobe  fresh vegetable salads

Sweet Tomatoes opened its first location in San Diego in 1978. It was dreamt up by a pair of surfer friends who wanted an endless supply of healthy food.

While the food was all serve-yourself, it was a far more elevated experience than your typical buffet.

Over the decades, the chain grew its footprint to 15 states. At its peak, Sweet Tomatoes had 110 company-owned stores, although headquarters remained in California, where the chain is branded as Souplantation.

What is Sweet Tomatoes known for?

kucheruk/Adobe vegetarian culinary buffet

Before its 2020 bankruptcy, Sweet Tomatoes was known as a restaurant ‌where “healthy meets naughty,” thanks to the inclusion of less-than-healthy additions, like bacon, to its salad bar.

Unlike other buffets and chain restaurants, Sweet Tomatoes boasted farm-to-table food.

Everything at Sweet Tomatoes is served fresh. Local family farms grow all the produce, which is rushed to kitchens in refrigerated trucks within four hours of harvest.

Additionally, everything is hand-chopped and house-made from scratch. This includes their famous muffins and cheesy garlic focaccia bread, made with California garlic, mozzarella, and freshly chopped rosemary.

The menu caters to a wide range of palettes, with vegetarian and gluten-free offerings, as well as healthy dishes that contain bacon, tuna, and other meats. Some fans may only know the restaurant through its Joan’s Broccoli Salad Madness Salad Kit sold in Costco stores.

Bankruptcy

Vitalii Vodolazskyi/Adobe Petition for Bankruptcy on an office table

Sweet Tomatoes’ owners, Garden Fresh Restaurants, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May 2020 during the early days of the Pandemic.

Amid all the Coronavirus restrictions, the restaurant chain saw no viable path forward to resume operations and adhere to strict federal regulations, which forbade self-serve food menus.

While other buffet chains, such as the Golden Corral, pivoted to more cafeteria-style operations, Sweet Tomatoes executives did not believe that mode of service would work well for their diners.

Former CEO John Haywood told "Restaurant Business," “The magic of our concept is people being able to customize and control their own experience.”

In a May 8, 2020, social media post, Sweet Tomatoes shared the disappointing news, letting down throngs of loyal fans.

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Steadfast for Sweet Tomatoes

art9858/Adobe salad bar in the restaurant

Sour grapes began cropping up everywhere on social media posts and Reddit forums.

Fans said they’d miss the high-quality, affordable fare and memories of dining there with friends and family over the decades.

One diner on Reddit recalls it was a great place to go to eat a “ton of pizza and pasta.”

Another adds, “It was always a nice go-to when you didn’t want a heavy, expensive dinner or [explicit] fast food.”

“I can’t say I’m not triggered every time I drive by the empty Sweet Tomatoes,” weighs in one especially sad guest.

What we know so far about the chain’s comeback

8th/Adobe fresh salad bar

Not all empty Sweet Tomatoes are staying empty, though.

A former Tucson location, at 6202 East Broadway in Tucson, Ariz., reopened to the public on April 1, 2024. Fans cheered as the red ribbon was cut.

The new owners worked with the real estate company CBRE to resume operations. The Tucson store is now open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Additionally, a former Rancho Cucamonga (Los Angeles), Calif. location reopened last February as a Soup n’ Fresh restaurant. Some area diners have dubbed it “the Fake Souplantation.”

Still, long lines trailed out the door for the restaurant’s soft opening on February 28.

While not affiliated with Sweet Tomatoes or Souplantation, this dupe-style restaurant offers a similar menu of pizzas, soups, salads, and muffins — packaged in a familiar, feed-yourself dining experience.

The food is similar but pricier. When the L.A. Souplantation closed in 2020, diners reported the buffet was $11.69 a plate. As a Soup n’Fresh, the menu is $16.99 for lunch or $18.99 for dinner.

What’s changed with new owners?

WARIT_S/Adobe salad bar

Prices are likely going up, but this is probably more to do with inflation than new ownership.

There are, however, other small changes restaurant-goers will notice. The restaurant's interior is revamped with new interior colors and the store has switched to completely cashless operations. Diners will need to pay by credit, debit, or digital wallet.

However, that’s the extent of changes under new owners — the menu and recipes will remain the same.

What’s coming next?

Uldis Laganovskis/Adobe vegetables and toppings

No new locations have been formally announced, but restaurant leadership has expansion plans. New owners are looking for smaller spaces than the original restaurant locations.

To see where they’re headed next, the chain tells fans, “Be sure to follow us on all social media platforms to stay tuned for more exciting news! We are looking forward to welcoming back all of our amazing guests and serving up some delicious food. See you soon!”

Bottom line

Elena/Adobe picking food from a salad bar

Sweet Tomatoes is coming back. Although the owners are new and the store sites are changing, Sweet Tomatoes will still be serving up the same familiar menu.

To get your green fix while you wait, both Shoney’s and Golden Corral offer salads and fresh food options on their buffet lines. 

And while it’s not a serve-yourself-restaurant, Crisp & Green is a build-your-own salad chain with plenty of healthy options on its menu, so you can avoid wasting money on soggy salads.

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Author Details

Stacy Garrels Stacy enjoys writing about fintech, consumer deals, the side hustle economy, and random tomfoolery. She's personally tried more than 100 different gigs, including being an Uber driver for one afternoon.

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