Souplantation—known for its addictive blueberry muffins, vats of comforting soups, and bountiful tuna tarragon salad (recipe here)—is unlikely to reopen, according to an email from CEO John Haywood that was shared with Los Angeles.
“Consumer comfort and demand are very low with regard to buffets and salad bars,” Haywood wrote in an email to employees. He added that state laws were unlikely to allow companies like Souplantation to reopen anytime soon, citing Georgia’s announcement that it would disallow buffets and salad bars from resuming business as part of reopening plans.
“We continue to exhaust all remaining options to keep the company viable,” the email reads. “However, you are strongly encouraged to apply for unemployment if not already done, and to explore other employment opportunities.” (Garden Fresh, the company that owns Souplantation, also operates buffet restaurants named Sweet Tomatoes in Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Georgia, and Florida.)
“It’s devastating,” says Jeff Hernandez, a former crew member based in San Diego. “I worked with the company for almost four years and it definitely became a family to me. I spent many late nights, gave so much to the company, made many friends with employees and customers alike. With almost no warning, it was all gone.”
Founded in 1978, Souplantation had already survived bankruptcy, an e-coli scare, and many food snatchers with big purses. The chain’s communal dining halls—filled with inspirational quotes from great American thinkers, including Fran Leibowitz—have long attracted Angelenos from all walks of life, owing to their inoffensive yet high-quality fare and aura of healthiness (that evaporates as soon as you reach the dessert bar).
Grieving buffet lovers took to Twitter earlier today, expressing a mixture of shock and denial that the coronavirus had claimed yet another vaunted L.A. hangout. (Swingers is also on the chopping block.) “Corona claiming Souplantation is my breaking point and villain origin story,” one person tweeted.
Others reminisced about cherished childhood memories at the buffet chain. “Souplantation is literally the place I realized and accepted I was gay in high school in L.A., while eating a huge helping of caesar salad, clam chowder, and a whole pizza for like $11.99,” tweeted Elly Bell, a writer at Refinery29.
Souplantation is literally the place I realized and accepted I was gay in high school in LA, while eating a huge helping of caesar salad, clam chowder, and a whole pizza for like $11.99. I will never forget you, Souplantation, you're part of my history and my origin story.
— Elly Belle, notably not a woman 🔮 (@literElly) May 7, 2020
Many expressed regret that they did not eat as much as they could have during what was, unbeknownst to them, their last visit. At one point, the restaurant was the number one trending topic in Los Angeles.
The death of Souplantation comes at a time of increasing uncertainty for buffet restaurants. Even before the pandemic, sales at all-you-can-eat restaurants weren’t too hot. Old Country Buffet’s parent company, Ovation Brands, has filed for bankruptcy three times in the past twenty years.
As California leaders weigh reopening measures, many wonder whether post-pandemic L.A. will be transformed for the worse. The coronavirus has exposed the vulnerabilities of iconic establishments at a time when we miss them the most.