It is a question that has perplexed Gainesville residents for nearly a decade − one that just won't go away.
"Is east Gainesville getting a Golden Corral?"
The topic was once again brought up at a recent joint Alachua County-Gainesville commission meeting where officials discussed food insecurity in east Gainesville, a part of the city that has historically lacked development and battled poverty.
Much of the discussion centered around the possibility of bringing a much-needed grocery store to the area.
For decades, county and city officials have struggled to do that. The stores that have come, soon closed down after opening, leaving the closest food options for east Gainesville residents to be fried and fast foods, pizza and barbecue, none of which are considered to be healthy options by medical experts.
For those in need of grocery shopping, a Walmart located along Waldo Road has been the best bet.
That store was expected by many to be the anchor to attract a Golden Corral, among other businesses.
But what few changes have occurred in the years since have little to do with the retail giant's location.
"I guess it was kind of disappointing to me, to be honest with you, after that fact nothing else happened there other than the Walmart," County Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said at the joint meeting. "And there was supposed to have been other entities that were supposed to happen. One was a Golden Corral restaurant that was talked about."
So was Golden Corral actually planning to come to east Gainesville?
It's complicated, but the short answer is no.
Backstory for Gainesville's most desired buffet
The northeast Walmart was only built because the business − understandably − wanted to build on the west side.
After all, that's where the most traffic is and where higher incomes are, according to census data. But elected leaders leveraged their need for east-side development by only allowing a west-side location to be built if the Waldo Road store went up first.
Soon after in 2015, rumors of Golden Corral first circulated when Charles Goston, then a District 1 city commissioner, vowed on multiple occasions to bring a flurry of big-name businesses to the part of town. The next year, he held a press conference saying much of the same.
Among the notable mentions were Outback Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Golden Corral − and even Publix.
“The Golden Corral will be built off Northeast Waldo Road and will hire at least 80 people and seat at least 300,” Goston said during a 2016 press conference to a packed room as some shouted “Amen!” and “About time.”
Other city officials were caught off guard, as no plans had been submitted for any of the businesses for an east Gainesville location.
As the years passed, the restaurant was frequently brought up. At one point, a representative from Golden Corral expressed interest in a Gainesville location, though it was located west. Those plans ultimately fell through.
When The Gainesville Sun filed a record request for information relating to a potential Golden Corral, the only document received was a franchisee letter addressed to the city commissioner that told him he, or someone else, could open a franchise location if they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money.
It was a blow to many Gainesville residents who long desired the all-you-can-eat buffet.
In 2018, the issue resurfaced when a petition was created on Change.org, where locals demanded to know whether the restaurant would ever come to Gainesville.
"This is the most important petition I have ever signed," wrote one supporter.
"I believe in a day when the East Side will overflow with chocolate from the infamous Chocolate Fountains," another supporter wrote. "On those winter nights that GRU doubles your electric bill we on the East Side can cuddle up to an unlimited supply of warmed plastic plates. When the flood waters come back during the next hurricane we can fill those sandbags full of mash [sic] potatoes."
The petition still gains the occasional support, though its momentum has died.
"For the love of god PLEASE," wrote one user, nearly three years after the page was created.
As of Jan 27, 2023, no such plans have been filed with the county or city to open a Golden Corral. The nearest locations are Palatka and Ocala.
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Officials say Walmart thought to attract Golden Corral to Gainesville