All 97 locations of Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes have been permanently shut down
| Credit: Souplantation/Facebook

Souplantation — also known as Sweet Tomatoes outside of Southern California — will not be reopening its doors after all of its locations were temporarily shut down over the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

The buffet chain's parent company has decided to permanently shutter all 97 locations of Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes and lay off its workforce, Garden Fresh Restaurants CEO John Haywood confirmed to the San Diego Union-Tribune on Thursday.

“The FDA had previously put out recommendations that included discontinuing self-serve stations, like self-serve beverages in fast food, but they specifically talked about salad bars and buffets,” Haywood said. “The regulations are understandable, but unfortunately, it makes it very difficult to reopen. And I’m not sure the health departments are ever going to allow it."

According to the outlet, 4,400 employees will be affected by permanent closure.

Haywood told Nation's Restaurant News that the company spent the last eight weeks “exploring every possible option” to avoid permanent closure.

“Our problem is this: we’re a buffet concept,” he said, adding that he didn't see a "path" to reopening the restaurant chain after Georgia — one of the first states to reopen businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic — was met with criticism for easing restrictions on dine-in services.

Haywood said the company has been losing roughly $1 million a week after temporarily closing down Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes outposts nationwide mid-March. He estimated that the amount would have been more had the buffet chain pivoted to operate under a takeout model.

In 2016, Garden Fresh Restaurants filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed dozens of Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes locations, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Souplantation was first founded in 1978 in San Diego as an endless soup and salad buffet bar. The eatery was bought up by Garden Fresh Restaurants in 1983, who expanded the franchise outside of California. All locations outside of California were named Sweet Tomatoes.

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