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Sizzler, last bastion of the restaurant buffet, files for bankruptcy

Exterior of a Sizzler restaurant in 2013
Photo: Sizzler

Today, I learned that casual steakhouse pioneer Sizzler still exists. Unfortunately I found this out because the company has declared bankruptcy, so my dreams of an all-you-can-eat shrimp-and-salad-bar road trip to one of its remaining locations may have died before they had a chance to live. Probably for the best, since there’s no way spending hours in a car with a belly full of cocktail shrimp and ranch dressing ends well, but in our dreams, truly anything is possible.

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The 62-year-old chain managed to survive both a lethal E. coli outbreak and a rat-poison-in-the-salad-bar scandal in the last 20 years, but despite its resilience in the face of adversity, it might not be able to overcome the behemoth that is coronavirus. The company added that in addition to the decreased sales caused by COVID-19, the bankruptcy was forced by “landlords’ refusal to provide necessary rent abatement.” Still, Sizzler refuses to throw in the towel: trade publication Restaurant Business reports the chain has between $1 million and $10 million in liabilities and the same amount of assets; in a statement, executives said they hope to restructure their debt and emerge from the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process within 120 days.

“It is our ultimate goal to keep all Sizzler locations open for business throughout this process of renegotiating leases,” wrote Sizzler president Chris Perkins in the statement. “Today’s filing represents a new chapter for Sizzler and it’s an option we’ve undertaken based on the underlying strength of our 62-year-old legacy brand.”

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We send our thoughts and prayers to Sizzler, and to all the people who still love it. When we come out of these crazy days, we’ll need all-you-can-eat shrimp more than ever.

Allison Robicelli is The Takeout staff writer, a former professional chef, author of three books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Questions about recipes/need cooking advice? Tweet @Robicellis.

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DISCUSSION

As far as I can tell, Sizzler isn’t really known as a buffet place, other than your standard salad bar fare. It’s an old school, family, sit down steak house with salad bar, similar to places like Ponderosa on the east coast.

Buffet places would be like Golden Corral in the midwest or Chuck-a-Rama in the mountain west, where there is literally no menu and you just pay a flat rate and wander around picking food out of different stations. My wife and I like to call them, “Hog Troughs”. I went to one for a breakfast buffet once. Never saw so many 300+ lb people in my life.