By: Anne Geggis
Sweet Tomatoes announced plans Thursday to permanently close all its outlets.
After nearly 24 years at 1850 N. University Drive, the city’s Sweet Tomatoes is another victim of the coronavirus crisis, according to the CEO of its parent company, Garden Fresh.
John Haywood, who leads the San Diego-based company that also runs its sister buffet chain, Souplantation, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the buffet business model doesn’t work, considering new guidelines the Food and Drug Administration recently published.
The guidelines published April 21 say that restaurants, when they re-open should, “Help customers maintain good infection control and social distancing by discontinuing operations, such as salad bars, buffets, and beverage service stations that require customers to use common utensils or dispensers.”
Val Jennings, 72, of Margate said the restaurant was a go-to for her at least once a month.
“This place was dependable for fresh eats,” she said.
Nationwide, 97 Garden Fresh restaurants will be closing. The San Diego Union-Tribune estimated 4,400 workers would lose their jobs nationwide.
Restaurants in most of Florida will be allowed to re-open on Monday. But South Florida doesn’t have a date. It’s clear, though, that they will be opening their doors to a changed situation. Pandemic rules mean restaurants can’t be filled with any more customers beyond 25 percent capacity. Tables must be 6 feet apart, and no parties of more than ten people will be allowed.
“We are saddened by the news they plan to permanently close their doors,” said Melissa Heller, deputy city manager, who oversees the city’s economic department. “The City of Coral Springs Economic Development Office is hopeful that once the economy rebounds, they will identify a tenant for the vacant space.”
Eileen Rosenblatt, 58, an educator in Coral Springs, said it’s hard to imagine working up an appetite for eating out anywhere.
“I’m uncomfortable with it,” she said, citing the mask requirement and other new wrinkles the coronavirus presents.
She said she has also read that restaurant managers can’t imagine how they can operate profitably if they have to limit crowds to 25 percent of their previous capacity. It’s an ominous situation for the area’s tourism-dependent economy.
The idea of going to a buffet makes Rosenblatt shudder, in particular.
“I handle things with tongs, but then I see what other people do,” she said. “This kind of reinforces it. No, I won’t be doing this anymore.”
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- Anne Geggis has been a newspaper reporter for 30 years, most recently at the Sun Sentinel. She graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., with a double major in journalism and sociology.
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