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Golden Corral Is Having the Best Year Ever After Nearly Declaring Bankruptcy

The chain hasn't simply recovered from the pandemic—it's innovating and thriving.

Three years ago, Golden Corral's future looked uncertain at best and dismal at worst. The COVID-19 pandemic was especially unkind to buffets, which relied on foot traffic and people willing to eat food that had been sitting out in busy self-serve lines. The company saw a major loss in sales and had to close dozens of locations after two of its largest franchisees filed for bankruptcy, inspiring predictions that it may be irretrievably doomed.

But in 2023—its 50th year in business—things are looking up for the chain. In the first six weeks, Golden Corral saw a 37% increase in same-store sales, 27 points of which came from an increase in orders, according to Restaurant Business. Average sales per unit also hit a record high. And while the pandemic did force it to shutter some locations, the chain has reopened some restaurants and plans to add more in the future.

 Golden Corral Denies a Steak Shortage That Started a Customer Brawl

"Much of the industry had written us off, and many of the media prognosticators had written us off," CEO Lance Trenary, who has been with the company for 38 of its 50 years, said in an interview with Restaurant Business last week. "To see us now—thriving, not just surviving—and the future never being brighter, I've never felt better in 38 years about our situation."

Though the company likely would have preferred to do so under less dire circumstances, the pandemic was a kickstarter for testing a couple of concepts that were a departure from its traditional buffet style. This included transitioning some restaurants to cafeteria-style setups, where employees would man the former self-serve stations and dispense food to customers. Golden Corral also tried to become more takeout-friendly by offering curbside pickup and installing drive-thrus.

The chain has also begun to expand into entirely new territory: a fast-casual restaurant concept and a full-service steakhouse concept. The steakhouse venture, dubbed GC Grill House by Golden Corral, launched with a first location in Lake Placid, Fla., in 2021, while the fast-casual venture is yet to be fully unveiled. Both new concepts are part of the chain's larger emphasis on trying fresh ideas in the wake of the fallout from the pandemic.

"We realized we have to be a learning organization," said Trenary. "We have to constantly be innovating and moving forward, without abandoning who we are."

Golden Corral is not the only restaurant to see an especially strong start to 2023. Texas Roadhouse announced last week that its restaurants had averaged more guests in the previous seven weeks than in any other period in its history, while same-store sales were up 15.8% in the same time period.

Zoe Strozewski
Zoe Strozewski is a News Writer for Eat This, Not That! A Chicago native who now lives in New Jersey, she graduated from Kean University in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Read more about Zoe
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