Friday, September 25, 2015

Ovation Brands, Owners of OCB - SOLD!

The corporation that owns, Old Country Buffet, Ryans, etc. is Ovation Brands, Inc., formerly known as Buffets, Inc. until the name was changed by FORMER CEO, Anthony Weedo. Yes - former CEO. Within the past year Weedo (you know the guy who was on the television reality show, "Undercover Boss") put out that Ovation Brands was looking to be purchased. In latge August, 2015 it was announced that a Food Management Partners bought Ovation Brands and all of its buffet chains.

I have know about this since just after it took place and have been sitting on the story to try to get more details. I have decided to go ahead and share this with all of you now with the little that I have been able to learn. Let me give you a little pre-sale information that I have also been sitting on.

In early June I was contacted through this site's email link by someone who works for Ovation Brands corporate. He told me that he has been reading this site for years and would like to meet me for lunch at a local OCB and discuss Old Country Buffet. I respectfully declined the offer as I have always wished to remain anonymous and sitting in OCB with an Ovation corporate executive was not going to keep me very anonymous any longer. He understood and shared a few things with me - the most significant of which was that Anthony Weedo was GONE and indicated that some " changes" had been made in their "leadership" team. He went on to share that the little pots of food would be gone from the menu and that they were looking to bring back some of the foods that people who like OCB have missed. He also asked me to share some ideas with him in this regard and how to bring people back to OCB. I have to admit that I did do that but not right away. I waited, discussed it some, and did send back my reply in mid-July. I did not get a response back to date - and I sincerely hope that he did not become one of the "key changes" by that time. Since then it has been no secret that Anthony Weedo was sent on his way and I have received a few emails from some of our readers who keep up with things like this also letting me know.

So Weedo is gone by early June and in two months, the sales offer that he set into motion is taken by a company called Food Management Partners (FMP). Here is what I have been able to find out about FMP. Food Management Partners is a privately held company based in San Antonio, Texas. Prior to the purchase of Ovation Brands they owned 200 restaurants. Now with those from Ovation Brands they own 500 restaurants. Prior to the purchase, FMP owns Furr's Fresh Buffet - a buffet that I have never heard of and none of our readers has ever mentioned in communication with me. They are on Facebook, they have a website, and they have locations (25?) in Arkansas, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. So FMP is familiar with the buffet business.

The biggest question on everyone (who cares) minds is what is FMP's intentions with all of the Ovation restaurant chains - OCB, Ryans, Hometown Buffet, Country Buffet, Fire Mountain, and a non-buffet restaurant, Tahoe Joe's, that was owned by Ovation. This from one of the FMP exec's - “The buffet business is one with which we are very familiar, and the chance to acquire a category leader does not come along often,” Peter Donbavand, FMP vice president of business development, said in a statement." (from "Nations Restaurant News - Aug. 20, 2015). This sounds hopeful. Unlike the Buffets, Inc (Ovation Brands) take over of Ryans which was intended to put Ryans - a competitor of OCB - out of business, closing many and changing the remaining Ryans into OCB clones, this buyout seems to not be looking to shut down or destroy what they have just purchased - which for those of us who enjoy these buffets - and those who work at these buffets - is a good thing. BUT - and a big BUT here to consider - FMP purchased a restaurant corporation that owned Coco’s Bakery Restaurants and Carrows Restaurants and as reported by "National Restaurant News", FMP immediately closed 149 of these restaurants based upon poor performance and apparently done so suddenly and again, without notice.  Oh boy!

Now, "Nations Restaurant News" reported on August 25, 2015 that there were layoffs of Ovations Brands employees at " the Greer headquarters office and in the Eagan, Minn., support office, where Ovation’s predecessor, Buffets Inc., had been based." Layoffs were done without notice or warning - sound familiar as this was how Ovation went through Ryans and some OCBs. Don't let the term "layoff" fool you - for the most part "layoff" means fired. In the article about this, included is Anthony Weedo - BUT we know that Anthony was given the boot in early June or before - along with other executives. So there is a little confusion here when piecing together what on-site sources have informed us and what later gets reported. Clearly, it looks to be that more have been let go than "key leadership".

So you all now have everything that is to be known to date. Time will tell and I only hope that this is not going to be another scourge of closings of buffets. I know that there are a lot of buffet managers and employees that follow this site, and perhaps those who can will share with me what is happening - or what has happened effecting your buffet and/or jobs. The email link at the side of this page goes directly to me and anything you share will not be used without your permission - and it is always kept anonymous.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Saturdays At Yoders

I have written about Yoders Restauant and Buffet in the Yoders Country Farm Market in New Holland, PA many times. The last time I wrote about it I said that things were inconsistent there. I have since have within one month had three very good meals at Yoders and they were all on Saturday nights.

In Lancaster I have tended to go to Shady Maple on Saturday nights - and when we are in Pennsylvania for just a day - often on a Saturday - we have gone to Shady Maple. But during the summer months when the tourists are everywhere, Shady Maple on Saturday night can be jammed with tourists. We go to Pennsylvania to relax and dealing with tourists at a buffet is just not relaxing. This occurred to me on the evening of the first of these three really good dinners at Yoders. We could not make it on time for dinner at any buffet but Yoders or Shady Maple. I thought about the crowds and who I would find at Shady Maple (no hit on Shady Maple as they can't help who comes there to give them business) and we decided to go to Yoders.

Yoders feature on Saturday nights is Pennsylvania Dutch. Now, at Yoders, this is not exactly what you might generally expect to find as Pennsylvania Dutch foods in this area at one of the other buffets. On the menu they say that there are two popular dishes of Lancaster County that are featured on the buffet on PA Dutch night - baby back ribs and marinated steak. I did not know that Lancaster is famous for baby back ribs but they served on the buffet at Yoders on Saturday nights and they are tasty. So is the marinated steak.

Let's talk about the marinated steak. I have had the best steak off a chargrill at Yoders at these three meals than I have had at any other buffet for a long time. First, there are two men cooking and serving at the grill (at the moment) who know what they are doing. Our regular readers know I like my steak rare - but that does not mean raw. It means crisped on the outside and red and juicy on the inside. And that is exactly what I got on request. The marinade that is being used is not overwhelming and the steaks are tender. They are also a decent thickness - not thin and not a thick lump of meat. I was recently there and I want to go back right now. There is only one problem - at each of these three dinners, I ate too much. I really could not resist even though I have learned over the years not to over eat at buffets.

The rest of what is served on Saturday night varies on the buffet. There have been different dishes each time. Items on the grill remain consistent on Saturday nights. In addition to the steak, there is chicken parmigiana cooked on the flat grill, corn fritters, salmon, fried zucchini, and more. On the buffet tables things have varied. Some of the better dishes have been a very tender pot roast, cut up smoked sausage cooked in a cream sauce with large peeled potatoes, the baby back ribs which are tasty and thick, ham balls, beef stroganoff (beef chunks in cream sauce with noodles), and others. There is a lot on this buffet and add that to the numerous items on the grill and there is a lot to choose from here. Side dishes like noodles in brown butter, a selection of plain in a good way vegetables, really good macaroni and cheese, good potato filling, and more are standard to this buffet on most nights. There are usually also a few fish entrees.

For PA Dutch Night the soups we have not always been very PA Dutch but there has been Ham Vegetable soup at two of these dinners and that is very good - loaded with vegetables and bits of ham in a tomato/ham base soup that is slightly sweet and good. Other soups have been Chessyburger soup, Minestrone, and others. There are always two soups served on the buffet.

There is menu serving here also but I figured out looking at prices on the menu and looking at what is on the buffet for the Saturday night price of $14.99 that one could quickly pass the buffet price ordering off the menu - and here if you order something that is on the buffet, the server goes over to those trays at the buffet and creates your platter. A slice of pie was $4 and this is the same slice of pie that is on the dessert section of the buffet - they go over and get one and bring it to you if you order it from the menu. So look carefully at the buffet if you are considering ordering from the menu and it may be worth your while to order the buffet and just don't get carried away. Though as I have been finding here lately, it is very easy to get carried away.

The change in night going here really made a difference. The restaurant can be crowded - all local people including Amish and Mennonite - and on one of the three Saturdays we waited in line for about ten minutes until we got in. It is a different crowd - not tourists. These are people who know this family restaurant and have been here before.

Service was good on each of these three nights. It had not been on the meal I reported on in the last article I wrote about this buffet. Again - a different night or just three times luck (not bad odds). Whatever it was - we were happy.

I can't wait for another Saturday night opportunity to get back here.

Yoders  is located at Yoder's Country Market, Route 23, New Holland, Pennsylvania. The phone number is (717) 354-4748. There is a website posted at the side of this page.