Souplantation, which operates as Sweet Tomatoes outside of southern California, is a United States-based chain of all-you-can-eat buffet-style restaurants. The first Souplantation opened in 1978 in San Diego, California, where the company is headquartered. The company was incorporated as Garden Fresh Corp. in 1983. The company went public in 1995[1] but was taken private in 2004.[2] The company is owned by Garden Fresh Restaurant Corporation.[3]

Number of locations
97 (May 2019)
Area served
United States
Key people
John Haywood (CEO)

Don Breen (CFO)

Devin Bell (Head of Fan Club)
ProductsSalad, soup, bakery, lemonade, strawberry lemonade, pasta, muffins, soft serve, fruits, vegetables, and other buffet and vegetarian options.
ParentPerpetual Capital Partners


The first Souplantation restaurant opened on Mission Gorge Road in San Diego, in 1978. It was the idea of Dennis Jay, who was a bartender at Springfield Wagon Works, a pioneer in Salad bars in El Cajon. Dennis's good friends, John Turnbull and Scott King were opening their first Soup and Salad restaurant The Soup Exchange. Dennis was impressed with the new concept and introduced Steve Hohe, the Springfield Restaurant manager and Ron Demery, a bail bondsman and long time friend to John and Scott. Dennis, Steve and Ron decided to partner up to create a parallel concept, the Souplantation. The two concepts grew side by side in a friendly, mutually supportive, yet competitive environment for a number of years. [4] This restaurant and a second one in Point Loma were purchased in 1983 by Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp, founded by Michael Mack to operate the chain.[5]

The company has expanded across the American West and Southwest, as well as opened locations in several Southeast states, including 23 restaurants in Florida. All of the restaurants are company-owned.[6]

In 2005, an affiliate of the private investment firm Sun Capital Partners purchased Garden Fresh and with it the restaurant chains.[7] As of October 2016, 104 locations remain in operation throughout the United States.[8]

In 2017, Garden Fresh and its restaurant chains were purchased by the New York private investment firm Cerberus Capital Management.[9]


Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes restaurants specialize in fresh salads and soups, offering a large salad bar, homestyle soup, and pasta, as well as bread, muffins, and pizza, baked on the premises. They are open for lunch and dinner.

The salad bar offers a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, croutons, and other salad condiments, as well as a few prepared featured salads, which change monthly. Other sections include up to eight soup selections, a small bakery offering muffins, pizza foccacia, and baked potatoes, a pasta section with a few different pastas and sauces, and a dessert section offering fruit, puddings, and soft-serve ice cream. Featured menu items are rotated monthly often along a theme, while the standard offering remains unchanged. Themes, named according to the type of food being served, include Asian, Greek, Italian, and Customer Favorites.

The company's home city of San Diego often serves as a test market for new ideas and innovations, and is home to Souplantation's corporate offices. For example, some Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes locations are open Sunday mornings for breakfast. In 2011, the company launched its first quick-serve restaurant, called Souplantation Express, in Carlsbad, California.[10]

In mass media

In 2007, a Souplantation restaurant in Orange County, California was linked to an outbreak of E. coli.[11][12] The restaurant closed temporarily while authorities investigated the outbreak.[13]


In October 2016, Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp, the owner/operator of Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. At the time Garden Fresh was nearly $175 million in debt.[14] In January 2017, the company said it expected to emerge from bankruptcy later that month, following a sale of the company's assets to New York-based private investment firm Cerberus Capital Management L.P. and its partners. Garden Fresh anticipated it would wind up with "between 90 and 104 restaurants" and "significantly less debt".[15]

See also


  1. "Souplantation is putting stock in a piping hot future". Los Angeles Times. May 29, 1995.
  2. "Garden Fresh completes move to private ownership". San Diego Union-Tribune. March 11, 2004.
  3. "Company Overview of Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp". Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
  4. "Our Company". Soup Plantation. November 10, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-10.
  5. "Our Company". Soup Plantation. November 10, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-10.
  6. "Our Company". Soup Plantation. November 10, 2008. Retrieved 2012-03-16.
  7. "Investors Buy Sweet Tomatoes, Souplantation". South Florida Business Journal. 2005-10-21. Retrieved 10 March 2012.
  8. "Locations". Sweet Tomatoes.
  9. Maze, Jonathan (10 January 2017). "Cerberus acquires Garden Fresh". Nation's Restaurant News. Retrieved 12 June 2018.
  10. "Souplantation Express celebrates 1 year". Souplantation blog. January 13, 2012.
  11. "E. coli outbreak linked to OC restaurant". ABC Money. April 3, 2007.
  12. "O.C. closes restaurant tied to E. coli cases". Los Angeles Times,. April 8, 2007.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  13. "Two More E. Coli Cases Reported In Orange County". San Diego 10 News. April 8, 2007.
  14. "Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp Files for Bankruptcy". Wall Street Journal. October 2016. Retrieved 5 October 2016.
  15. De Crescenzo, Sarah (January 10, 2017). "Struggling Garden Fresh to Sell Assets to N.Y. Investment Firm". San Diego Business Journal. Retrieved 11 January 2017.
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