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This Beloved Regional Restaurant Chain Has Shuttered All 97 Locations

Coronavirus has been hard on everyone, but this restaurant chain is sadly gone for good.

The parent company of regional salad bar and soup chain Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes has announced that it is permanently closing all 97 locations citing the coronavirus pandemic and the increasing difficulty for running buffet-centric restaurants.

Garden Fresh CEO John Haywood told media outlets on Thursday that Garden Fresh plans to file for federal bankruptcy protection, telling the publication that the company did not "see a viable way to reopen." The restaurant last served customers in March, when they closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"The FDA is recommending the discontinuation of any type of salad bar, buffet, or self-serve station," Haywood explained to TODAY Food. "While the regulations are understandable, our whole concept is a buffet salad bar. We don't think the state and local health department will permit anything close to that format any time soon.

"You think about having to go a year or over without customers. It literally becomes tens of millions of dollars to hope that people will want a buffet concept," Hayword continued.

Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes restaurants were founded in San Diego roughly 15 years ago and specialize in serving fresh salads and soups—offering a large salad bar, homestyle soup, pasta, bread, muffins, and pizza baked on the premises. The food is presented at a salad bar and serve-yourself buffets, which are not viable ways to serve food amid the pandemic.

The Center for Disease Control has provided strict guidelines for restaurants to reopen amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Serving food buffet-style, in open chafing dishes open to aerosolized droplets, does not abide by safety practices provided by medical and public health experts. Plus, a recent video from Japan illustrated just how dangerous a buffet can be for spreading potentially deadly contagions.

A number of restaurant chains have closed many locations as a result of the coronavirus, but Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes appear to be the first national chain to shut down completely.

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