Sweet Tomatoes Exclusively Returns to Tucson

By Steve Forrester

Between 2023 and 2024, over twenty different Tucson-area restaurants closed their doors. We’re happy to see that one restaurant has returned with their doors wide open, and not just returned to Tucson, but exclusively returned to our fair city. This restaurant is Sweet Tomatoes, which had its grand re-opening at Broadway and Wilmot on April 1st, 2024.

At 11:00 a.m. on that drizzly Monday morning, a long line of guests showed up (the first in line arrived at least an hour early), and all applauded when the doors opened and the line began to slowly step inside the renovated restaurant. Everyone in line gave a sigh of relief because finally, a lost institution had been resurrected, just after Easter Sunday. The hostess and management gave everyone a warm, welcoming smile, as well as a few free gifts: a cute little logo pin, a nametag that said “Sweet Tomatoes (with the accompanying logo) FRESH START REOPENING! I WAS THERE! April 1, 2024” and a calling card with the same message as the label.

The first person in line, along with a few others, traveled all the way from Long Beach, California. A couple in line made the 8-hour hike because “this was a memorable occasion” and they simply “loved the food at Sweet Tomatoes.” Others even drove for over an hour from Benson to attend this momentous event.

The food was indeed worth the lengthy drive. Once you stepped through the entranceway, you couldn’t help but feel like you were stepping into a semi-sanctuary of salad. The pristine presentation of the vast selection of thinly sliced carrots, cucumbers, celery, radishes, mushrooms, garbanzo beans, peas, corn and other vegetarian-friendly cuisine were piled high and ready to be transferred to the high pile on guests’ plates. The buffet attendant replied to a waiting patron “There may be no fragrance to the uncooked vegetables, but we ensure they are fresh, crispy and tasty!”

All of the staff seemed well-rested, cheerful and thoroughly prepared to handle the impressive turnout (did I mention the line stretched around the front and beyond the back of the restaurant?). The line never stopped until they closed for the day. One busboy, who politely approached me and introduced himself, offered to take my finished plate as soon as I devoured the last bite. I suppose the staff realized the line outside was still growing and wanted to have all tables available ready for the next customer.

The meal was quite filling. I barely fit a heap of vegetables that I hungrily consumed (took me 45 minutes of shoveling the food down), then I worked on the warm biscuit of moist cornbread and two muffins for dessert. I knew I was going to be stuffed until the next morning.

After my visit, I learned from the general manager, Christi Prievue, and the manager, Tara Gryszkin, that the restaurant was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 15th, 2020; there was too much of a risk, especially for buffet-style restaurants.

Once COVID-19 caused the restaurant to close, Prievue and Gryszkin obtained jobs at other restaurants. Their staff dispersed and found their jobs elsewhere at various opportunities here in Tucson and neighboring cities. The original owner of Sweet Tomatoes was Gordon Fresh Restaurants, who was later bought out by ST3 Investment Group, which took over at an unknown date.

Word had spread through the media that Sweet Tomatoes was going to return to Tucson. At first they said February, then moved the opening date to mid-March, and then two weeks later it finally happened. Prievue is not exactly sure what was the cause for the two “false starts”, but believes it may have been construction delays, inspection deadlines and delivery of equipment that caused the postponements (they ordered new, state-of-the-art cookers and walk-in freezers). Once they had all those deliveries out of the way, they contacted the health department who gave them the stamp of approval to re-open their doors.

Gryszkin, who is an alumnus of Pima Community College, says there are plenty of reasons students should visit Sweet Tomatoes. “We have much more than salads. We’ve got soup, pizza, ice cream. It’s a good place to come anytime!”

Even when visiting the place a week after they reopened, Sweet Tomatoes still has customers waiting in line at 10:00 a.m., one hour before their 11:00 a.m. scheduled opening time. Edna Miranda was the first lady in line, and she brought her grandson with her because she has memories of the wonderful food and is so happy Sweet Tomatoes has finally reopened their doors.

Let us hope this is not only a sign of success for a local Tucsonan restaurant, but a sign of a resurgent economy for other businesses through Arizona and the rest of the United States.