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Old 05-07-2020, 06:05 PM
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Sweet Tomatoes restaurants are no more. I mourn.


The California chain of restaurants named Souplantation, or Sweet Tomatoes if you're not in California, has announced they're going under. They were marginal, apparently, and then this pesky Coronavirus went and iced the very idea of a dine in buffet style salad and soup restaurant.

For the long version, I offer this link: https://www.sandiegoville.com/2020/0...ot-reopen.html

There is a Sweet Tomatoes around the corner from my home, and it was a fine place for a decadently overloaded salad, some delicious soups, a loaded baked potato, a great pasta bar, some fine baked goods, and a soft serve ice cream machine for afterwards, or just to keep the kids out of your hair.

It was a place I went when I craved an Asian salad with that ginger salad dressing and the crunchy noodles, or a bowl of rather good clam chowder, or a bowl of chili with three different kinds of cornbread, or we were both tired after work and just didn't want to mess with dinner construction and cleanup.

They shut down two months ago, almost, because of the shelter in place orders. And now, it seems, I have eaten my last Sweet Tomatoes.

Sigh. I mourn.
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Old 05-07-2020, 06:13 PM
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I feel bad about that. I started going to Souplantation when I lived in California, and then Sweet Tomatoes when I moved to the south. Never found "old" food on the buffet (unlike places like Golden Corral where 'old-tasting' is the rule rather than the exception).

I'm going to feel bad about this every time I remember.

Last edited by Sherrerd; 05-07-2020 at 06:13 PM.
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Old 05-07-2020, 06:20 PM
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Souplantation is one of those restaurants that I always assumed would change their name at some point due to unfortunate implications.
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Old 05-07-2020, 06:24 PM
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I kinda figured this is what would kill them off. Too bad - a lunch at Souplantation and we were good for 24 hours at least!
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Old 05-07-2020, 07:07 PM
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I kinda figured this is what would kill them off. Too bad - a lunch at Souplantation and we were good for 24 hours at least!
I know, right?

They weren't cheap, but they WERE all you could eat. And don't get me started on Golden Corral, a place that, as far as I can tell, could have the slogan, "This food won't go away until YOU eat it!"
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Old 05-07-2020, 07:13 PM
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... They weren't cheap, but they WERE all you could eat. And don't get me started on Golden Corral, a place that, as far as I can tell, could have the slogan, "This food won't go away until YOU eat it!"
Yeah, it's nasty. My father loved GC because you could get meat, and it was cheap, but I won't ever set foot in one (assuming they re-open at some point).
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Old 05-07-2020, 07:13 PM
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Mrs. L and I loved Sweet Tomatoes. When they closed most of their stores we were totally bummed. Later we took a trip to San Jose and were thrilled to find they were still operational. Hell to the yes! While we were there, we ate at S.T. twice. Those breads and desserts...

So very sorry to see them go.
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Old 05-07-2020, 08:03 PM
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Dammit!! The mushroom soup alone was worth the price.
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Old 05-07-2020, 08:27 PM
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It was an OK place but we had better options for a buffet.
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Old 05-07-2020, 08:30 PM
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Their Chili Soup was a personal favorite. Toss some chopped onions and a couple splashes Tabasco into the bowl, then ladle in the soup. Add cheese on the way down the line.
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Old 05-07-2020, 08:50 PM
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I loved Sweet Tomatoes. Their chili was quite good.
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Old 05-07-2020, 08:58 PM
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That's too bad. I always liked their food.
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Old 05-07-2020, 09:03 PM
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Yeah, it's nasty. My father loved GC because you could get meat, and it was cheap, but I won't ever set foot in one (assuming they re-open at some point).
Did it once upon coming to Texas. It had to be our first week here.

Has put me off buffets ever since. And I used to love 'smorgasbord.'

Bummer about Sweet Tomatoes. I've never been in one, though I do remember one in a strip mall near where I shop. But what they sell---lots of salads and soups, AIUI---are how we eat normally. I just do it better than most restaurants not self-consciously artisan.

It won't be the last set of businesses that go bankrupt because of these restrictions.
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Old 05-07-2020, 11:41 PM
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OMG! This is the first I've read of this. Me am bummed!

There is (or was) one about a 90 minute drive from where I live. That was my most preferred go-to place whenever I had lunch with a certain friend (who lives in the immediate vicinity of that place), or my brother, or my cousin, or various others.

How many people here remember the Fresh Choice chain, which folded about ten years ago? It was substantially identical to Sweet Tomatoes, but a much larger chain with many many more locations all over the place.

Hometown Buffet was a great place too, once upon a time. They've gone waaay downhill over the last several years and many of their locations have closed. This pandemic might well do them in too.

Anybody still remember Smorga Bob's, buffet chain from way back in the 1970's?
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Old 05-07-2020, 11:50 PM
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Awww, darnit. I love Sweet Tomatoes, they were such a welcome break from the usual run of garbagey AYCE buffets. The kind of place you can take your mom for lunch and everybody's happy about it. Sigh.
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Old 05-08-2020, 12:54 AM
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Rats. The one near me was always crowded, even when we went at off hours for the discount, and the food was always fresh. Great clam chowder and great breads. I don't think I've ever seen anything there that seemed spoiled. People were putting out fresh bins all the time.

But I understand. It is going to be a long time before most people are willing to eat something someone else might have pawed through. It's not exactly takeout friendly either.
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Old 05-08-2020, 01:42 AM
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Dammit!! The mushroom soup alone was worth the price.
This. Best cream of mushroom soup anywhere. I could never resist having two or three bowls. Plus the chicken noodle with the massive pieces of chicken.

I am really bummed. Now I am worried about the Mongolian barbecues...
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Old 05-08-2020, 09:16 AM
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The Souplantation I remember fondly from my time in San Diego. We went somewhat often.

I liked it enough that when I found out the were Sweet Tomatoes, we started going to Sweet Tomatoes on most of our trips to Florida. There were two in the Orlando area and 1 near my daughter's college in Tampa.

I actually wrote to them to try an convince them to open in my area in NJ at some point years ago.
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Old 05-08-2020, 09:36 AM
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I can't say I'm sad to see them go. Our local one closed about 3 years ago, but we'd stopped eating there long before that, because EVERY time we ate there, one or both of my wife and I would get the shits.

Souper Salads never had that problem.
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Old 05-08-2020, 12:30 PM
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I really hope that buffets in general survive because we have a locally owned pan-Asian buffet that I love dearly and would miss fiercely if it didn't come back. Likewise Korean barbecue places.
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Old 05-08-2020, 01:27 PM
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I think what you will see is a return to cafeterias, where someone behind the line scoops out your food and plates it for you. Increased labor costs, of course, but I think the demand will be there. Especially someplace like Las Vegas. The hotels aren't about to let their suckers go somewhere else for their eating of mass quantities. Just drop the sneeze guards to counter level and pass the plated food over the top.
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Old 05-08-2020, 03:30 PM
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I used to eat there every Monday before the epidemic, gonna miss their chicken soup
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Old 05-09-2020, 09:36 AM
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Huh. That sucks. I liked them.

The one I'd go to was always very full. It seems like a salad bar would be a high margin business. They weren't expensive but they weren't cheap either, and salad ingredients seem like they'd be pretty cheap on average, so it seems like they'd have a pretty successful business model. I wonder how/why they were barely making it before the pandemic.

Salad bars should be a more common business model. I know some restaurants will have a token salad bar because they focus on other food like steaks, and while that's okay, it's great to have a place that just specializes in having a lot of salad options. I love salads with a huge variety of ingredients.

It's an easy business model, you just have to chop up and top off some ingredients every once in a while, it seems popular when it's tried - why isn't it more common?
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Old 05-09-2020, 09:49 AM
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I really hope that buffets in general survive because we have a locally owned pan-Asian buffet that I love dearly and would miss fiercely if it didn't come back. Likewise Korean barbecue places.
That is a thing I've been thinking about. One of the things I love about buffet style restaurant is that I can get up, pick and choose, and return to my seat anytime. The waitress is there to keep the tea full, clear away the plates, and bring me the check. AND THAT'S OKAY!

But I seriously wonder about the future of buffet restaurants in general, now.
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Old 05-09-2020, 09:58 AM
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That is a thing I've been thinking about. One of the things I love about buffet style restaurant is that I can get up, pick and choose, and return to my seat anytime. The waitress is there to keep the tea full, clear away the plates, and bring me the check. AND THAT'S OKAY!

But I seriously wonder about the future of buffet restaurants in general, now.
For us, the most tragic would be losing the Indian buffets. Pakoras pakoras pakoras...a little chicken tikka, some muttar paneer, biryani yes please, ooh, they have rose milk for dessert!

And don't forget Mongolian BBQ places, where you select the ingredients for someone to cook and return to you.

Souper Salad's website has this:

"...we are temporarily converting our self-service buffets into full-service all you can eat buffets. Rest assured, you can still eat as much as you want but for now, let us wait on you and your family. You will also notice that we are reducing the number of persons that may be inside each restaurant at any one time and some states are also limiting the total number of persons that can sit at a table to 6 or less; you will notice that available tables will be identified with a card reading that this table has been cleaned and sanitized. "

https://soupersalad.com/covid-19/
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Old 05-09-2020, 05:37 PM
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Well. Sweet Tomatoes pizza shops in Newton and Needham, MA, carry on. No relation.
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Old 05-10-2020, 08:42 AM
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There was one by my old work and I would treat myself to lunch there about once a month. Caesar salad, soup (shrimp bisque was my favorite), a couple of slices of the focaccia, and a brownie and muffin for dessert. That, my Kindle, and a glass of iced tea was a wonderful experience.
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Old 05-11-2020, 01:23 PM
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Huh. That sucks. I liked them.

The one I'd go to was always very full. It seems like a salad bar would be a high margin business. They weren't expensive but they weren't cheap either, and salad ingredients seem like they'd be pretty cheap on average, so it seems like they'd have a pretty successful business model. I wonder how/why they were barely making it before the pandemic.

Salad bars should be a more common business model. I know some restaurants will have a token salad bar because they focus on other food like steaks, and while that's okay, it's great to have a place that just specializes in having a lot of salad options. I love salads with a huge variety of ingredients.

It's an easy business model, you just have to chop up and top off some ingredients every once in a while, it seems popular when it's tried - why isn't it more common?
The Sweet Tomatoes I've been to had salad, but they also had an array of other food- pasta salads, soups/chili/stews, and breads. I suspect that there was probably a handful of salad ingredients that were NOT relatively cheap, even in bulk, and that people eat a lot of- dressing, cheese, olives, etc...
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Old 05-11-2020, 01:52 PM
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I've been to this sort of restaurant a few times, but not recently. As I remember, the fixed price didn't include soda, so they charged two or three dollars more for that. Plus there wasn't much labor involved; one or two people behind the buffet to restock and a couple more to clear tables.
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Old 05-12-2020, 09:09 AM
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https://www.cracked.com/article_2769...much-dead.html

Buffets are pretty much dead for the foreseeable future.
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Old 05-12-2020, 10:40 AM
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Well. Sweet Tomatoes pizza shops in Newton and Needham, MA, carry on. No relation.
That was my thought when I saw the thread title. I didn't know there was a chain with the same name.

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I kinda figured this is what would kill them off. Too bad - a lunch at Souplantation and we were good for 24 hours at least!
Someone once said that the problem with my cooking is that 72 hours later you're hungry again. I don't think it was meant as a compliment.

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Buffets are pretty much dead for the foreseeable future.
I've been hearing this, but I'm not sure I completely understand. I've heard that COVID-19 can't be caught by ingesting it. Is the problem with buffets just that people don't want to touch the same serving utensils that other people have touched? How about at the beginning of the buffet, when you pick up your plate and utensils, you also get a large spoon and a pair of tongs? Serve yourself from the buffet, drop the spoon and tongs in a bin at the end, and then take the plate to your table.
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Old 05-12-2020, 10:48 AM
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Oh no! I love Sweet Tomatoes, though I haven't been in over a year. As someone mentioned above, the mushroom soup was to die for. No pun intended!
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Old 05-12-2020, 10:51 AM
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Then there is cross contamination between the spoon you used for Salisbury steak and the chocolate pudding. As I see it, the way forward is backwards - to the cafeteria. Lower the sneeze guards to the counter, hire 3 times the staff and have them plate your choices and hand them over the barrier. Minimal contact, zero cross contamination. Yeah, your chocolate fountain is history, and you won't be able to stack a 2 foot high pile of crab legs on your plate any more, but what are ya gonna do?
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Old 05-12-2020, 11:46 AM
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I personally am not too worried about viral cross contamination between dishes, because that would only lower my risk incrementally. On the other hand, the idea of one dish getting mixed in with another one is pretty grody especially if the added "value" is mayo.

Maybe mandatory hand sanitizing before and after each plateful?
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Old 05-12-2020, 12:44 PM
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I've never tried those (I'm pretty sure the one not too far from us was called Sweet Tomatoes even though it's in California). I don't like salad so that kept me away, but the thing that mostly kept me away was a totally irrational hatred of both names (I hate tomatoes so a restaurant including them in their name was a turnoff, and "Souplantation" just seemed like a stupid name).

I feel bad for those who enjoyed the place, though. I don't think I plan to go near any communal-food/buffet restaurants for quite some time.
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Old 05-13-2020, 09:25 AM
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Then there is cross contamination between the spoon you used for Salisbury steak and the chocolate pudding. As I see it, the way forward is backwards - to the cafeteria. Lower the sneeze guards to the counter, hire 3 times the staff and have them plate your choices and hand them over the barrier. Minimal contact, zero cross contamination. Yeah, your chocolate fountain is history, and you won't be able to stack a 2 foot high pile of crab legs on your plate any more, but what are ya gonna do?
And there you go.

It's my understanding that Souplantation was apparently doing rather marginal business, profits weren't great, losing money, and so forth. I think it was two or three years ago they tried to do MORNING business by using their existing infrastructure to do a BREAKFAST buffet.

We tried it. It was all right, but lacked pretty much all the things I'd go to a breakfast buffet FOR -- sausage gravy, grilled ham slabs, and, of course bacon. I understood this -- those would be the most expensive things to serve -- but, durnit, if you don't have it, why am I getting out of bed in the FIRST place? And if I do, well, I'm more likely to do it on a weekend, and I'm going to go somewhere that will serve me some flippin' BACON.

Couple of months later, they were closed in the mornings again, just like before. But they still did a fine lunch and dinner business, far as I could tell. They might have done better with the breakfast thing if they'd publicized it better, but durned if I could see where they'd make enough profit on weekdays to make it worth it.

But yeah, I suspect Silenus has the right of it. Worse than that, hotels are likely to stop doing their breakfast buffets and continental breakfast grabs and like that. Places like Golden Corral are suddenly looking rather deathtrappish. All it takes is one infected person coughing into his hand, and then picking up a set of tongs, and within fifteen minutes, the whole place is doing the Covid Conga.

I loved Sweet Tomatoes, but even if they were open right NOW, I'd think twice, three times, four times, and then say, "Hey, honey, maybe we could just get Greek takeout instead?"

Yeah. Only way these places are going to make it, they hire extra staff and convert completly over to cafeteria style. And the way the economy is looking these days, how likely is that?
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Old 05-13-2020, 12:58 PM
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I've never tried those (I'm pretty sure the one not too far from us was called Sweet Tomatoes even though it's in California).
There were definitely some Sweet Tomatoes locations in California, although I was never able to find very many. I knew of one in Fresno and one in Pleasanton.
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Old 05-13-2020, 01:52 PM
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On a related note I see that while the casinos of Las Vegas are reopening, they are doing so without their many, MANY buffet tables. Wonder how THAT'LL change things? Not that you could get me into a casino right NOW except possibly at gunpoint....

https://boingboing.net/2020/05/13/ne...as-casino.html
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Old 05-13-2020, 01:54 PM
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There were definitely some Sweet Tomatoes locations in California, although I was never able to find very many. I knew of one in Fresno and one in Pleasanton.
And one in Fremont I went to and one in San Jose, right off 237 where we had some work reunion lunches.
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Old 05-13-2020, 01:57 PM
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On a related note I see that while the casinos of Las Vegas are reopening, they are doing so without their many, MANY buffet tables. Wonder how THAT'LL change things? Not that you could get me into a casino right NOW except possibly at gunpoint....

https://boingboing.net/2020/05/13/ne...as-casino.html
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Old 05-13-2020, 03:05 PM
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Meh. We used to go to a local one about once a month, what with some coupons. I used to like to go, and take my time, read a book, make lunch last two hours.

Recently I went twice like a month before the Virus hit.

Sad. Hardly anything that tempted me. It had gone downhill quite a bit. So the virus just finished them off- they were already pining for the fjords.
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Old 05-13-2020, 03:09 PM
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When I first got to Los Angeles, The Soup Exchange was the standard. Fantastic!! Then they closed and were replaced by Fresh Choice. Everything looked better but did not taste as good.

Then there was Souplantation. It was the last full salad bar. (If you try to bring up Sizzler's salad bar, I will spit in your general direction)
It was there a long time and the quality was consistent. And dammit, sometimes you just need a big salad and no one can assemble one better than me!

I have missed it for a while. I moved out of L.A. for Sacramento, and there are no salad bars. (Again, do not try to bring up Sizzler!!)
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Old 05-13-2020, 03:11 PM
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When I first got to Los Angeles, The Soup Exchange was the standard. Fantastic!! Then they closed and were replaced by Fresh Choice. Everything looked better but did not taste as good.

Then there was Souplantation. It was the last full salad bar. (If you try to bring up Sizzler's salad bar, I will spit in your general direction)
It was there a long time and the quality was consistent. And dammit, sometimes you just need a big salad and no one can assemble one better than me!

I have missed it for a while. I moved out of L.A. for Sacramento, and there are no salad bars. (Again, do not try to bring up Sizzler!!)
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Old 05-13-2020, 03:13 PM
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And one in Fremont I went to and one in San Jose, right off 237 where we had some work reunion lunches.
There's one in Santa Clara, in the Mercado center off 101. Dunno if it's still there--I've never eaten there.
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Old 05-13-2020, 03:18 PM
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Last edited by Typo Negative; 05-13-2020 at 03:19 PM. Reason: goddddammmmiiittttt!!!!
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Old 05-13-2020, 05:35 PM
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Drat. When I craved a salad for lunch, that was my go-to place. I'll miss it.
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Old 05-13-2020, 07:26 PM
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I feel bad about that. I started going to Souplantation when I lived in California, and then Sweet Tomatoes when I moved to the south. Never found "old" food on the buffet (unlike places like Golden Corral where 'old-tasting' is the rule rather than the exception).
I wont exactly tout the merits of Golden Corral, but every single time I've been there the place has been so packed the food never had an opportunity to get old.
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Old 05-14-2020, 07:33 PM
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I wont exactly tout the merits of Golden Corral, but every single time I've been there the place has been so packed the food never had an opportunity to get old.
Did you try any of the salads or vegetables?

During those years of going when I visited my parents (because Dad liked it), I invariably found the meats and starches were okay, but anything with non-starchy vegetable matter tasted pretty "last week." Ick.

I don't mean to insult the typical Golden Corral clientele, but I have a feeling they're not exactly fans of salad. So that stuff gets put out night after night after night....
  #49  
Old 05-14-2020, 08:27 PM
DrDeth is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by teela brown View Post
Drat. When I craved a salad for lunch, that was my go-to place. I'll miss it.
Last time I went, I was unimpressed.
  #50  
Old 05-15-2020, 12:12 PM
Master Wang-Ka is offline
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I've never been crazy about Golden Corral; the one reason I'd go there was for steak, but the last time I went, the "steak bar" was in fact a man in chef whites carving slices off a rather fatty roast, and referring to said slices as "steaks."

There used to be a chain called Fire Mountain which had a decent buffet, but no steak bar. Haven't seen one in years.

And now, I'm durned if I could tell you where I could build a decent salad in these parts. I weep.
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