The parent of the Souplantation/ Sweet Tomatoes salad buffet chain on Wednesday opened the first of six new concept locations that will test a more upscale reinvention of the brand.
Called Sweet Tomatoes Field Kitchen, the first in the new batch of restaurants opened in Tempe, Ariz., in a converted Sweet Tomatoes site. The San Diego-based chain, owned by Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., is known as Souplantation in Southern California and Sweet Tomatoes everywhere else.
David Goronkin, the chain’s new chief executive who joined Garden Fresh in June, said the goal of the six pilot locations is to explore opportunities to “contemporize the brand and make it more relevant to consumers.”
The company asked consumers what they love about the brand, he said. The result: Guests loved the variety, the opportunity to create their own experience and the freshness.
With Field Kitchen, now Garden Fresh is posing the question: Where do we grow from here?
“This is a really terrific brand that has a wonderful legacy,” said Goronkin. “It’s about enhancing what it is guests love about the brand and looking at building a broader consumer base.”
Field Kitchen, for example, offers expanded menu options, the addition of specialty beverages like beer and wine, as well as different pricing and a new payment method.
Currently, Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes charges one-price for all you can eat: $8.29 at lunch and $10.29 at dinner. Field Kitchen, however, will offer guests the option of choosing a “build your own bundle,” including one trip to the salad bar, plus the choice between three soups or macaroni and cheese, house-made breads and desserts, for the lower price of $6.99 at lunch and $7.99 at dinner.
Alternatively, guests can unbundle the options and purchase their choices separately, using a card that is swiped at each station to keep track of what they select. When their meal is finished, guests can bring the card to the cashier to tally up their total.
Among Field Kitchen’s new menu options is a station offering salads, ranging from $6 to $7, that are made to order and delivered to the table. A carving station offers freshly carved roasted meats and sandwiches, with prices ranging from $6 to $11. And a grilling station features steak and chicken skewers for $2 to $3 that can be easy add-ons.
The challenge of a single-price concept, said Goronkin, “is that you’ve only got one price to sell.”
Offering guests options, however, gives them more control of their experience, but hopefully will also offer an opportunity to build the average check, he said.
Field Kitchen also has an updated design, with china, new glassware and silverware, along with features like a living garden wall of fresh herbs, all adding to its more-premium positioning.
Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes is a popular brand with women, seniors and young families. Goronkin said aspects of Field Kitchen are designed to attract more young people aged 20 to 30, without losing hold of the core audience.
Garden Fresh plans to invest $2 million in converting six existing Sweet Tomatoes locations in Arizona to the new Field Kitchen concept over the next two months. After a test period, the company will then look at how aspects of the concept could be applied to the 129-unit chain going forward, said Goronkin.
The company has signed a lease to open a new restaurant next July in Chino Hills, Calif., that Goronkin hopes will be the new prototype for future growth, which will apply the new learnings.
Over the past two years, Garden Fresh has been growing a smaller-format express variant of the brand called Souplantation Express. Three express locations are open, in Carlsbad, Calif.; Las Vegas; and Clearwater, Fla. Goronkin said that version of the brand will also be revisited.
Garden Fresh doesn’t reveal sales figures, but Goronkin said sales have been flat this year over last.