Once upon a time, Old Country Buffet used dominated the American buffet scene. You’d see them in strip malls and families were the main customers. Nowadays, you won’t be able to find any Old Country Buffet locations still in business.
Why did the Old Country Buffet go out of business? The chain went through numerous bankruptcies leading up to the health crisis in 2020 that was the final nail in the coffin for the brand. The Old Country Buffet brand is now owned by an umbrella company that has publicly stated they have no plans to try to reinvigorate the brand. In this article, I go into a lot more detail about the gradual and sudden deterioration of the Old Country Buffet Brand.
Did Old Country Buffet File for Bankruptcy?
The short answer to this is that yes, Old County Buffet filed for bankruptcy many times. Not once, not even twice, but a third and fourth time as well.
Old Country Buffet, which was once considered to be a popular buffet restaurant with over 600 locations has gone through several ownerships, bankruptcies, and even controversies. The restaurant was owned by Buffets Inc and started in 1984. They filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008, 2012, and 2016 with the latter citing that they faced high costs from dealing with a lawsuit.
Line up for the buffet.
Then came the pandemic which was hard on the food businesses especially buffets and in 2021, Old Country Buffet filed for another bankruptcy.
Jason Kemp, CEO of VitaNova Brands who was helping Old Country Buffet with their financing said this in his statement: “As with almost every one of our peers, buffet restaurants took the brunt of the loss of sales during the pandemic and as such, the path to success requires hard choices to be made, including the rationalization of our overall footprint.”
Of course, Old Country Buffet wasn’t the only chain to experience challenges during this time period. Garden Fresh Restaurants, the mastermind behind Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, filed for bankruptcy and closed shop in 2020 as well. Why, you ask? The company has been bleeding about a cool $1 million per week at the time bankruptcy was filed. Ouch!
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CEO John Haywood, in a heartfelt chat, mentioned how he tried every trick in the book to keep the 4,400-strong team. But alas, with the FDA giving a thumbs-down to salad bars and buffets, and states like Georgia following suit, the future looked as bleak as a salad without dressing. After all, how do you run a buffet chain when buffets are off the menu?
Souplantation, which first sprouted in San Diego in 1978, and its sibling Sweet Tomatoes, have been the go-to spots for fresh soups, pastas, pizzas, and of course, those legendary salad bars. But as they say, all good things (and delicious buffets) must come to an end. Fans have taken to Twitter, sharing their grief with crying tomatoes and heartfelt messages. One fan lamented, “First sports, then baby showers, and now Sweet Tomatoes? This virus owes me big time!”
We saw first hand the impact of Souplantation in our neighborhood as well. I can confirm that shortly after the health crisis hit a long-time location in Temecula, Calif., quickly shuttered their doors after decades in business. This location was near a shopping mall and off the busiest street in town. But location didn’t matter. The concept wasn’t able to operate, closed down, and never opened again.
Did Old Country Buffet Close in Illinois?
There are no more Old Country Buffet locations in the great state of Illinois. The Old Country Buffet at 6560 W. Fullerton Ave. in Chicago was considered the last Illinois Old Country Buffet. It was reported that they closed down in 2020 during the pandemic.
But even before COVID-19 crashed the party, sales were on the decline for this buffet chain. Just look at the numbers: buffet sales plummeted by 55% as of August 2020, while the overall restaurant industry saw a decline of 9.5%. Old Country Buffet cited challenges in renewing leases on favorable terms and is now pivoting to a dining model that doesn’t rely heavily on buffets.
Are there any Old Country Buffet Locations in Minnesota?
As far back as 2016, there was only one remaining Old Country Buffet location in the entire state of Minnesota. The last location had a good run, but in early 2020, the last remaining location at 14150 Nicollet Ave, Burnsville, MN 55337 was permanently closed.
It’s particularly sad to see there are no active Old Country Buffet locations in the state since the company was founded in Minnesota back in 1983. The companies corporate headquarters was also located in Eagan, Minnesota, until 2012.
This was the last remaining Old Country Buffet location in Burnsville, MN. The location permanently closed in 2020.
Are there any Old Country Buffets Still Open?
There are no longer any Old Country Buffet locations still operating. Based on reports from the current ownership, CEO Jeff Crivello confirmed, “We have no immediate plans to reopen any of the buffet brands.” This includes Old Country Buffet so don’t expect this chain to re-emerge anytime soon.
BBQ Holdings, the powerhouse behind Famous Dave’s, recently acquired Fresh Acquisitions, which owned several buffet brands, including Old Country Buffet, HomeTown Buffet, and Ryan’s. However, the real gem in this acquisition was the five-unit Tahoe Joe’s steakhouse chain.
I conducted a lot of research for this article and couldn’t find a single Old Country Buffet locations that’s still open. I even direct messaged old Facebook accounts and emailed different locations. I didn’t get any responses suggesting that the locations are no longer in business.
Who owns Old Country Buffet?
As mentioned earlier, BBQ Holdings holds the intellectual property (IP) for the Old Country Buffet brand. They publicly stated there are no plans to bring back the buffet chain and it feels like they acquired the IP almost on accident.
BBQ Holdings paid out $5.2 million to acquire Tahoe Joe’s, a steakhouse chain in California. The company sees potential in co-branding Tahoe Joe’s with its flagship Famous Dave’s brand, blending the smoky flavors of both. This co-branding approach aligns with BBQ’s strategy, as they’ve previously combined Famous Dave’s with other restaurants, like Texas T-Bone Steakhouse and Johnny Carino’s Italian restaurants. As part of this acquisition, BBQ Holdings ended up getting the Old Country Buffet IP as part of the package.
Sadly, Old Country Buffet is no longer open anywhere. Based on all the available information, it doesn’t seem like this will change any time soon.