The parent company of buffet chains Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes filed for Chapter 7 liquidation, a week after the CEO said he could not see a way for the salad bar concepts to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a filing dated May 14, San Diego-based Garden Fresh Restaurants LLC, owned by Washington, D.C.-based private equity firm Perpetual Capital Partners, listed creditors ranging from 10,001 to 25,000. Liabilities and assets both ranged from $50,000,001 to $100 million, according to bankruptcy documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of California.
Last week, CEO John Haywood said Garden Fresh was exploring bankruptcy amid a prolonged shutdown of the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When restaurant dine-in operations were shutdown across the U.S., the company furloughed 4,400 employees and temporarily closed 97 restaurants, 12 commissary kitchens and two distributions centers.
The restaurants were losing about $1 million a week.
Haywood, in a phone interview last week with Nation’s Restaurant News, said the company explored “every possible option” to survive the pandemic.
“Our problem is this: we’re a buffet concept,” Haywood said.
As states began to lift dine-in restrictions for restaurants, Haywood said it became clear that buffet concepts would have the toughest restrictions.
Still, some buffet-focused chains are not giving up. On Thursday, Pizza Inn released its "New Right-Way Buffet" plan to keep customers and employees safe when restaurants are allowed to reopen. The new procedures call for one-way buffet traffic.
"At some locations where the layout allows, the buffet has been changed to a model where team members serve guests cafeteria-style. At other locations, team members will serve guests at their tables," the company said.
Garden Fresh, founded in San Diego in 1978, was bought out of bankruptcy by Perpetual a few years ago. Haywood, appointed in 2017, had been leading a turnaround that included remodeling stores and growing units for the first time in years. Growth was targeted in California, the company's core market.
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