Barry Saunders

Parting with the buffet is such sweet sorrow – Saunders

It’s a little early in the morning for this, but I’m fixing to blow your mind.

Ponder, if you will, this perplexing restaurant riddle, and tell me it won’t be competing for space in your brain the rest of the day as it has been in mine:

When the all-you-can-eat restaurant in your neighborhood goes out of business, is it because you ate too much – or ate too little?

That cafeteria conundrum, which could confound Confucius, is what your hungry, humble correspondent has been trying to figure out for the past few days, since discovering that the Golden Corral foodatorium that I used to could walk to just went belly up. Did I go there so often that I cut into its profit margin – or did I not go there enough and it realized it wasn’t serving enough of that renowned pot roast and carrot cake?

There’s no easy or satisfactory answer, because for whatever reason, a love that seemed destined to last and last has ended – and I didn’t even see it coming. For years, nay, decades, I’d been a faithful customer. Didn’t the end of such a glorious affair deserve more than a note stuck to the pillow – I mean door?

My neighborhood Golden Corral has closed. A love that seemed destined to last and last has ended – and I didn’t even see it coming.

Don’t look at me like that, because it was, in a sense, like being in a relationship that you thought was going swimmingly, only to find out when you got home from work that Sweet Thang had packed up all of her soft thangs and left.

Except for the times when it was closed, the parking lot of the Golden Corral on Roxboro Street in Durham seemed always to be profitably packed.

That’s why I assumed its – our – future was assured.

At 6:45 Sunday morning, I found out otherwise. I dialed the number to the GC and prepared to be told to come on down.

Sorry, the number you dialed is no longer in service, the recording said. So, as anyone would, I dialed the number again, more carefully this time, since I obviously got the digits transposed the first time.

Hey, schmuck, didn’t we just tell you the @#$%& number is not in service?

Despite not making contact with a human being, I shot down to the restaurant, worrying only about whether I’d be able to find a parking spot.

How many parking spaces were available when I got there? All of them. The parking lot was empty, and the door was locked. On that door was a note thanking former customers for 25 years of loyal patronage.

Often, as with so many other things, it was the anticipation of what awaited after I’d hand over my simoleons to the Golden Corral cashier. I’d go to the restroom to wash my hands and then, before getting a plate and utensils, stand in the middle of the floor and just inhale the competing aromas that beckoned me.

“Try me first,” the bacon would coo.

“No, me,” the link sausage would whisper.

“Hey, he came for me,” the eggs screamed.

Now, now, ladies. Don’t fight. There’s enough room in here for everybody.

A few years ago, there was a story about a baseball player from Cuba who defected and signed a contract to play in the Major Leagues. One of the first things he did was visit a U.S. supermarket where – overcome by the bounty that surrounded him – he fainted.

Some people laughed, but not I. I understood. Sometimes, when I arrived at my neighborhood Golden Corral early enough and was the first customer of the morning, I was known to get a little woozy, too.

I was unable to reach anyone at Golden Corral headquarters in Raleigh to tell me why the restaurant went belly up, so, like the great thinkers of antiquity – Aristotle, Plato, Fred Sanford – we are left to ponder “which left first, the chicken, the eggs or the customers?”