Soup or salad is the question to ponder at these eateries. Garden Fresh Restaurant owns and operates more than 100 buffet-style restaurants under the names Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes. Found mostly in California and more than a dozen other states, the diners feature salad bars that include all the usual fixings, as well as specialty and prepared salads. The restaurants also feature self-serve bars for pasta, soups, breads, and fresh fruit. The company's Souplantation banner is used mostly in Southern California markets while Sweet Tomatoes is the brand outside that region. Founded in 1983 by CEO Michael Mack and partner Anthony Brooke, the company is owned by private equity firm Sun Capital Partners.
Garden Fresh opened its first quick-serve restaurant, Souplantation Express, in early 2011. The new concept is not a traditional all-you-can-eat buffet, but customers can still choose from more than 30 ingredients to build a custom salad. Garden Fresh plans to open several more Souplantation Express locations in the coming months, which will pair the custom-built salads with made-from-scratch soups.
Sun Capital acquired Garden Fresh from a partnership of Centre Partners Management, Fairmont Capital, and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance for almost $200 million in 2005. A management group also has a small stake in the business. Based in Florida, the private equity firm has several investments in the restaurant business, including a rival salad-buffet chain, Souper Salad. – less