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Gateway restaurant remodels, remakes menu.

Byline: Ilene Aleshire The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - Gateway Mall has seen a flurry of activity this holiday season, in addition to the usual rush of shoppers.

Shortly before the holiday shopping season kicked off, HomeTown Buffet reopened after being closed for a major remodel and remake of the menu.

The restaurant replaced its traditional straight line buffets with different stations offering specialty foods, including a fresh salad bar, a grill, a Mongolian stir fry, an Asian bar, an Italian bar and a Mexican bar.

"It's almost set up as a food court," said Slaton Smith, senior director of field marketing and media for the company. The restaurant opened at Gateway in 1996, he said, "and there have been some renovations over the years. But this has really been a fresh change."

This is reflected not only in the way the restaurant looks, but the menu items, he said. Customer favorites, such as fried chicken, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese will be fixtures on the menu, Smith said, but "we will also rotate new items in there."

The Gateway restaurant was one of the first in the Hometown Buffet Chain to undergo the remake, Smith said, "it was the third we've done this quarter," he said, "We're gong to be doing restaurants in Texas, Louisi ana, California and Colorado over the next six months."

When deciding which restaurants will be "re-concepted," Smith said, "We look at the community, the restaurant's penetrations, where we have the best opportunity to really grow our brand. We've been in this market since 1996, and it's been a very successful restaurant for us."

Smith said the company does not disclose the cost of remodeling work.

HomeTown Buffet is owned by privately held Buffets Inc. of Eagan, Minn.

Buffets earlier this year emerged from a Chapter 11 financial restructuring in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The parent of the HomeTown Buffet, Old Country Buffet, Ryan's Grill, Buffet & Bakery, Fire Mountain and Tahoe Joe chains entered bankruptcy with 494 restaurants and exited with 357. The reorganization eliminated all outstanding pre-petition term debt, totaling approximately $255 million, as well as annual interest expenses of more than $35 million, according to the company. The January 2012 bankruptcy was Buffets' second in four years, as it had filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and exited in 2009, according to news reports. The company has said that its debt woes were tied to its 2006, $876 million merger with Ryan's Restaurant Group Inc. to create a nationwide, multibrand buffet system of 675 restaurants, according to news reports.

Also at Gateway, locally based International Fitness has bought the OZ Fitness outlet. The 32,000-square-foot center that OZ leases from the mall includes facilities for sauna, tanning, swimming, Zumba, volley ball, basketball and other activities. The new owners said no significant changes are planned at the Gateway location.
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Title Annotation:Local News; HomeTown Buffet keeps its comfort-food favorites but goes to specialty food bars in place of serving lines
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 14, 2012
Words:474
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