Outside of Sweet Tomatoes restaurant.
Flickr: Alex Gorzen

Sweet Tomatoes will reopen in a 7,024-square-foot space. 

Shuttered Buffet Concept Sweet Tomatoes is Coming Back

The chain, which went bankrupt early into the pandemic, will reopen in Tucson, Arizona, where it operated from 1996 to 2020. 

Sweet Tomatoes, a buffet chain that permanently shut down early into the pandemic, is making a comeback. 

Real estate agency CBRE announced last month that it arranged a 7,024-square-foot lease for the restaurant to return to a previous location in Tucson, Arizona. A company called ST Three, LLC will renovate the space and reopen the concept. The group purchased exclusive rights and intellectual property associated with Sweet Tomatoes, and its sister concept, Souplantation. It hired former Sweet Tomato operators to lead the Tucson location. 

“We first started talking with the tenant last summer, and the operating manager spent time bringing in contractors to understand the scope of work,” Nancy McClure, a CBRE representative, said in a statement. “He indicated the concept [Sweet Tomatoes] had and continues to have a strong following with patrons still active on Facebook and Instagram sites."

Garden Fresh Restaurants, parent of Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, revealed in May 2020 that it was permanently closing all 97 of its restaurants. The chains were known for their 50-foot salad bar, soups, pastas, breads, and desserts.

Former CEO John Haywood said at the time that stores spent weeks trying to reopen, but COVID health standards prevented them from doing so. Robert Allbritton, chairman of Perpetual Capital Partners, the firm that bought Garden Fresh in bankruptcy back in 2017, told the San Diego Tribune that customers count was rising and restaurants were being renovated, but the pandemic brought progress to a halt. Money was starting to run out. 

The company later filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy, meaning it surrendered assets and shut down for good. Garden Fresh considered applying for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, but decided against it. Allbritton wrote a $2.5 million check to help cover payroll for roughly 4,400 employees. 

The first Souplantation was founded in 1978. After expansion throughout the 1980s, Sweet Tomatoes was added in 1990. Garden Fresh was once backed by Sun Capital Partners. 

The Tucson location operated as Sweet Tomatoes from 1996 to 2020. 

“Reactivating a well-located, large-format restaurant building will certainly be a boon to the Broadway and Wilmot intersection. Although the restaurant industry showed immense resilience in getting through the pandemic closures and operating restrictions, today, we have fewer US restaurants (chains and independents) than in the past 25 years,” McClure said.