Whatever happened to Sweet Tomatoes?

Howdy, folks, and welcome back to HHR. Today we’re checking in on an untouched Sweet Tomatoes at 8775 Katy Fwy, Houston, TX 77024, to answer the question of whatever happened to all the Sweet Tomatoes locations in Houston. For those not in the know, Sweet Tomatoes was a popular all-you-can-eat soup and salad buffet. It worked quite similarly to Souper Salad but did not feature tacos or nachos as a part of the hot bar. Sweet Tomatoes popped up in California about the same time Souper Salad did in Houston in the late 70s. At the time, the concept of a stand-alone salad bar was mostly unknown, with most salad bars operating as a”free course” for those visiting somewhat higher-end restaurants like Steak n Ale or Bennigans. Over the next 30 years, the Sweet Tomatoes chain (known as Souplantation in their home state of California), and Souper Salad would grow to dominate the market, extending their reach into each other’s territory. Unlike Souper Salad, though, all Sweet Tomatoes locations were company owned, a move which would help provide stability to the company during rocky economic conditions. When Souper Salad began hemorrhaging locations in the 2000s, Sweet Tomatoes sold out to an investment firm. Despite having a somewhat better footing with this option, Sweet Tomatoes would not be immune to the decline in buffet popularity overall. In 2016, the company filed for Bankruptcy and, at the time, looked like it might face liquidation.

Sweet Tomatoes’ bankruptcy ended with another private investment company coming in to purchase the assets of the original operation. In the process, the locations would be pared down from over 120 locations to just under 100. The cuts would occur across the operating region, but Texas would be heavily affected, with our state’s store count dropping from 10 to just 4. The locations closed were all outside of Houston and built after the company’s initial push into Texas during the turn of the century. With now just a concentration of stores in the Houston area, the company seemed better poised to continue operation in a market in which they were pretty well established. Combined with the continuing shutdown of Souper Salad locations, the future of Sweet Tomatoes seemed bright by 2019. However, little did the company know they were about to experience something they could not overcome, the COVID pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, Sweet Tomatoes, along with almost every other buffet, was required to stop service until an alternate setup could be found. After about a month of waiting, Sweet Tomatoes made the unfortunate announcement that the company would seek to liquidate rather than change its concept. The news was shocking, but after reflecting on the troubles experienced by the company, it’s not too shocking they would decide to close. Despite being consistently stronger as a corporation than Souper Salad, Sweet Tomatoes’ closure leaves the former as the winner in the race to stay afloat, with one Houston-area salad buffet still in operation. Since you can’t stop in at Sweet Tomatoes anymore, maybe go give Souper Salad a try!

11 comments

  1. I too, mourn the loss of Sweet Tomatoes. I visited The Woodlands location quite frequently, absolutely loved it! COVID killed two of my favorite buffets, Sweet Tomatoes and Ryan’s. To add insult to injury, they put in an In-And-Out in the old location! I hate that place! Souper Salad is a poor imitation of Sweet Tomatoes.

    1. Souper Salad was not an imitation. It preceded Sweet Tomatoes, in Houston. Sweet Tomatoes offered more, though. Both gone now.

      1. Well, all I know is that lots of people in Houston miss Sweet Tomatoes. Can’t drive down I-10 without someone saying Will Sweet Tomatoes ever come back?

  2. We loved the Sweet Tomatoes in The Woodlands snd are there a lot. It was always packed. They were a great healthy alternative. I wish some investors would purchase the recipes, trademarks and concept and bring it back. They had a loyal following and there are no comparable restaurants.

    1. Thank you! These are my favorite types of posts to make, so I appreciate it. I actually tried to make one with the S. Loop Golden Corrall you told me about, but unfortunately, since the fire, it has all been fenced off. I did end up taking a video, which I’ll have to edit and upload at some point.

  3. I had no idea that Sweet Tomatoes survived that long.
    Speaking of buffets, I would love to see an article on Sandy’s Market, once at Katy Fwy and Tully. We ate there a number of times, and I believe this was a one price buffet with what today would be a
    keto/macro/organic twist, nestled in amongst grocery and supplement shelves. Must have closed around 2010 at the latest.
    IIRC this shopping center was once a K-Mart and Sandy’s portion of it was more than big enough to house a buffet and market shelves. There were a couple of radio shows that broadcasted live on Sunday mornings, I think on KSEV, from a stage in the middle of the store. Quite a hub of activity altogether.
    I do not recall how you paid for your meal, but the place was big enough so that Sandy employed a security guard to discourage check walkers.

    1. I’ll see what I can pull together on Sandy’s. I must have driven by a thousand times but never really realized what Sandy’s was! Also, you are completely correct about the Kmart connection.

  4. I sold the Sweet Tomatoes in Stafford a couple of years ago to a national medical clinic user. It has been reopened for a year or so. The I-10 location has zoning issues because of it’s Hedwig Village location.

    1. I’ve seen the Medical Center that opened in Stafford, it’s not a bad reuse of the building, although I do miss Sweet Tomatoes. I can imagine Hedwig Village wants to bring in a similar sales tax draw. I know they were upset when Academy ditched them a few years back.

      Are/were you involved with the sales of the other Sweet Tomatoes locations?

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