Friday, October 03, 2008


Ponderosa Steak Restaurants are often called buffet restaurants. I have put off publishing this article several times. I hesitated each time that I thought of posting it. There is an uncertainty about Ponderosa. The reason will be clearer as you read this article. Perhaps it should be titled, "Ponderosa, Is it a Buffet?" In the past month I have learned news that bring up a more important and timely question, "Does Ponderosa as a chain still exist?".

The chain of Ponderosa restaurants is owned by a parent company called Metromedia Restaurant Group. This company also owned and operated Bennigans Restaurants and Steak and Ale Restaurants. In July 2008, the parent company declared bankruptcy, under Chapter 7 and in August closed all of the Bennigans and Steak and Ale restaurants in its holdings - with the exception of very few which were franchised and would continue under independent ownership. The question was raised at the time as to what would become of the Ponderosa/Bonanza chain. Metromedia stated publicly at the time that Ponderosa was operated by a sub-division of thier company that was not declaring bankruptcy and that these restaurants would continue to be open as usual. In September 2008 Metromedia took down the Ponderosa chain website. It was suspected that they would reopen the website at a future date, but going to that web address now brings you to a home page that says that the domain name is "parked there for free". This seems odd to me. If the business will continue as usual, why not have a website for the chain? Why would you not have just a home page that said, "Ponderosa website will be back". The website, when operating, listed the menu, briefly mentioned a "buffet", had a location finder, and had an email club for discount offers on meals. All of that is now gone.

From Internet searches I come across many articles about Ponderosa restaurants closing - some very suddenly, others as a result of law suits against them, and still others due to illegal activities by their franchise owners. It appears that many of the Ponderosa restaurants (perhaps all of them) are franchised ownerships. Franchise owners with more than one Ponderosa are closing all of the stores at once. Articles refer to employees being told not to come to work the next day - there is no work any longer. At one restaurant employees staged a public protest because not only were they told that the restaurant was closing the next day but they would not be receiving their pay checks!

Current searches for individual Ponderosa Restaurants come up with nothing recent. I cannot find a website or customer rating newer than several months ago for any Ponderosa Restaurant.

Prior to this news I had written the following article about Ponderosa restaurants. I present that articel here, but will conclude with some questions for you, our readers.

Several times in my searches for buffets the Ponderosa Restaurants have come up and some of my readers have written and asked why I have not reviewed the chain. Many, many years ago there were Ponderosa restaurants in my area and I did dine there. Back then, there was no buffet. The restaurant was a "discount" steak restaurant that you ordered your meal at a counter and then were seated and wait staff would carry your steak and potato out to you from the kitchen when it was ready. The Ponderosa Restaurants closed around here many years ago. Since then I had never connected Ponderosa with buffet. More recently, there were other Ponderosa restaurants in areas that I have traveled and those I passed seemed to feature a salad bar with your steak order, but that never much appealed to me and I did not go in. Those have closed as well. There are Ponderosa Restaurants in several states and even one as close to me as the Bronx (You know, The Bronx - New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium. Some parts nice and some parts are not the safest areas to travel in).

I asked one of the readers who I was communicating with by email if the Ponderosa Restaurants had full buffets now or was it still an order off the menu restaurant with a salad bar. I was assured that it is a full buffet of the same type as Golden Corral, OCB, etc. With that understanding I decided to do a bit of research and see what I could find out and share with you about Ponderosa. This is another of my discovery articles and I want to be right up front with you all that I have not yet eaten at a Ponderosa Resaturant (at least not for the past 20 or more years), but I will share with you what I have been able to find out. And that is not much.

The Ponderosa website (when there was a website) home page says "Big Honkin' Buffet". That was encouraging. Beyond that there is a description of an order from the menu menu of steaks, chicken, and seafood - much as I remember it 20 years ago. The buffet is mentioned in a small side box with the description of a salad and appetizer bar that includes soups, vegetables, salad, and dessert. The last line states that a variety of beef, chicken, seafood. and pasta dishes appear on the buffet - but items will vary by location and are not at all restaurants. Hmm. I have been through this sought of buffet before - one of my worst buffet experiences was at a Western Sizzlin' in Maryland several years ago.

It has been my experience that when the main business of the chain restaurant is not buffet, the buffet is just a compliment to the items that they want you to order off the menu. Ponderosa talks about getting the buffet with your entree instead of a vegetable and potato. In the restaurants that I have been in that do this ,the buffet is not well maintained and the offerings on the buffet beyond the salad bar are minimal.

A recent special feature at Ponderosa was an All You Can Eat Shrimp Platter served to you at your table and refilled for you by your waiter at your request. This makes me wonder that if there is a buffet, why isn't the all you can eat shrimp on the buffet? Why does this need to be a special that must be brought to you? Another indication that this will not be the type of buffet that we all would expect. Everything on the website is focused around the entree menu including the buffet served as a side dish.

And yet, buffet keeps being associated with Ponderosa - in business articles and in several emails that I have had from readers. On a restaurant trade rating scale of buffet restaurants, Ponderosa was rated higher than OCB. When I went to the Ponderosa website, I truly expected to find a restaurant description that would equal that of Golden Corral, Old Country Buffet, or Ryans, but as I have said it did not.

With what I have learned about Ponderosa (also called Bonanza in some locations) I would want to see the buffet before I committed to eating there. Without one local to me I am not certain that I would travel to one, if I am near one of their locations, to walk in and look around. I certainly would not want to spend money for meals for my wife and myself to find out that we are having a salad bar and hot wings for dinner, which one source stated was what a Ponderosa buffet often has to offer - hot wings, pizza, and pasta - along with a soup and salad bar and small desert selection. Another source stated that some Ponderosa's just have salad bars and not buffets, while others offer a few entrees like fried chicken and meatloaf.

I had been hoping that I would find a description of a "real" buffet restaurant. I was hoping for another chain to explore like Golden Corral, Ryan's, or OCB. I do not think that I have found one.


Now, my questions for our readers - if you have an answer please post a comment.

If you have ever been to a Ponderosa Restaurant what there is to be found on the buffet and how extensive a buffet meal one can have (could one once have had) there?

Is there a Ponderosa Restaurant near you that is still open for business? Have there been any changes there recently? Does it appear that it may be closing?

Has a Ponderosa Restaruant near you or that you know of closed recently?


mario said...

I ate at the Ponderosa a few times and I would not call it a buffet by any means.Its just like the sizzler, you order a meal cafteria style then you get the buffet style salid bar. I was never impressed, just a quick meal with no frills

Anonymous said...

There is a Ponderosa in Cadillac, Michigan, on the west side of the state, which has a wonderful buffet. The last time I was there it was $6.99 for the buffet alone and it had several meats (e.g. fried chicken, roast beef, meatballs,) and you could have a great meal without having to get a steak or anything else with it.
I haven't been there for awhile, but there's also one in Southfield, Michigan which is in Metro Detroit. It's on 11 Mile and Greenfield. They had a buffet there too, but the one in Cadillac is the best! We go there often and it's a great value with good tasting food.

David from Gary Indiana said...

There are 4 Ponderosa locations in my area (3 corporate & 1 franchise). The Gary, Griffith, & Merrillville Indiana locations are corporate owned, and they do offer a buffet. It isn't a gigantic buffet like OBC, Chinese buffets, or Golden Corral, but enough to consider them a buffet. The sole franchise is in Crown Point Indiana

The corporate locations have available 1 or 2 types of chicken (baked and/or fried), meatloaf, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, mac & cheese, spaghetti, stuffed peppers, corn, green beans, fish, & tacos as examples of what they offer. There's also the salad bar, with 2 types of salads (regular iceberg lettuce that you make any way you like, and caesar salad already made), and the dessert & fruit bar. They also have entreees available, and you have a choice of ordering the entrees as a platter (with baked potato or fries, salad, vegetable, and dinner roll), or with buffet. Drink is extra, but refills are unlimited. Corporate locations also offer select entrees at special lunch prices, while the sole franchise doesn't, and also can be ordered as a platter or with buffet. If entrees are ordered with buffet, then it's just steak, seafood (fish, shrimp, or crab legs, or a combo of each), or chicken, and a baked potato or fries.

The sole franchise in Crown Point Indiana has a slightly larger buffet, adding pizza to their buffet, and having a lot more fruit available. The dessert bar is slightly larger too in selection. Without being able to look it up on the website,I only remember cheesecake, peanutbutter cookies, chocolate chip, and rice crispies treats. There's more, but don't remember them off the top of my head. The Crown Point location does charge a little more to eat there, but for a slightly bigger buffet & excellent service; it's worth the money in my opinion. This location also serves breakfast on Saturdays & Sundays, and they have made to order omelettes & waffles (up to 4 small round waffles), along with bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, pancakes, hashbrown potatoes, donuts, cereal, & french toast sticks to name a few. Drink is extra (even orange juice is extra), but unlimited refills. Wednesday night is made to order pasta bar, where in addition to the buffet & entrees, they have 4 different types of pasta noodles, 4 sauces, various veggies, and made the way you want it. I forgot to mention 2 or 3 meats as well (meatballs, chicken, and I believe ground beef). Out of 4 locations near my home, the Crown Point location to me is the best one to go to.

Despite the locations doing ok (excellent for the Crown Point location), I do wonder what'll happen with Ponderosa as Bennigans went bankrupt, though the Bennigans locations by me are franchise. I wouldn't be surprised if the corporate locations close, but I would only hope that the owner of the Crown Point location has enough money put aside, should he have to change to a different restaurant. I do know he (Gerald Farmer, I believe that's his first name, but it's his last name) has no desire to open any additional restaurants outside of his only location.

David from Gary Indiana said...

I have an update on Ponderosa. I had mentioned that there were 4 locations near my home; there's now only 3. 2-3 days before Metromedia Restaurant Group (parent company of Ponderosa & Bonanza) filed chapter 11 bankruptcy, the Ponderosa in Merrillville Indiana closed, and I somehow believe that Gary & Griffith Indiana locations will close as well. Those 2 are corporate, and no longer participate in the Eclub program. It would especially be a shame if they close the Gary Indiana location, as they just remodeled that location, after that location had a dated look (from that location opened in 1973). I'm surprised that location is still open, as both Kmart & Zayre/Ames left the area between 1990 - 1994, and there's few businesses left in that area.

Anonymous said...

Ponderosa Steakhouse is alive and well! I own and operate two Ponderosa Steakhouses in southern Indiana and Kentucky. The debate you have had as to whether Ponderosa is a Buffet or a Steakhouse is a valid one. The answer is yes. We are both. For those guests who wish to make a meal of the buffet, we offer around 100 items and 8-10 proteins at any given time on our buffet. For those who wish to have a cooked to order entree with their buffet, we offer a wide selection of steaks, shrimp, chicken, ribs and fish that can be added to the buffet for a couple of bucks more. For those not interested in a buffet, we offer all of our entrees as "Platters", which includes the entree, potato choice, garden salad and vegetable choice.

If you have further questions about the brand, I would be more than happy to provide any answers that I have. If I don't know the answer, I'll get it for you!

Thanks for your interest....

Mike Everhart

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comment Mike. I am the Area Developer for Bonanza Steak houses in Iowa and the Dakota's.

Ditto on your comments. We are alive, well and fairing better then the casual theme and high end franchises in our market.


sam said...

It has been confirmed to the Daily Advocate that on Sept. 24, Ponderosa in Greenville will be closing.
Greenville OHIO.

Anonymous said...

Ponderosa on Buffalo Road , Harborcreek closed 2 years ago March 22 , 2013 . Worked there for 7 years , great people who I miss . Closed one friday afternoon and was told it was being sold to Tim Horton's . There are alot of places to get coffee in this area , but no place to get a Steak and the Buffett . Thanks alot Ponderosa .