John Haywood will lead San Diego-based Garden Fresh Restaurants. Photo via Garden Fresh

A longtime restaurant executive is the new CEO of San Diego-based Garden Fresh Restaurants, which operates Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes eateries, the company announced Thursday.

John Haywood, 53, has held leadership roles for Black Angus Steakhouses, celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace and Metromedia Restaurant Group, which operates more than 800 outlets under various brand names.

Haywood, who Garden Fresh called a “hospitality turnaround specialist” will be tasked with running a company emerging from bankruptcy following its purchase by Cerberus Capital Management of New York.

“John is the perfect guy to take our unique brands to the next level,” said Gene Baldwin, former interim CEO of Garden Fresh and member of the Board of Directors. “He has a keen understanding of consumer insights, culinary trends, and operations management in addition to the financial acumen it takes to succeed in today’s challenging environment.”

Haywood said he’s familiar with the soup and salad buffet-style restaurant from having grown up in California.

“Our guests have remained so loyal during challenging times, and we now look forward to exceeding their expectations and earning their loyalty in every way,” he said.

Garden Fresh now operates 97 restaurants in 9 states.

— City News Service

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