Buyers turned out for some good deals at Ryan’s Buffet restaurant in Bowling Green on Tuesday, but they weren’t in line dishing up fried chicken and vegetables.

They were online, bidding on the equipment and fixtures that are all that’s left of what was once a busy eatery on Mel Browning Street.

A liquidation auction, which is being handled by the Auction Nation online auction company, started Tuesday and continues through noon Wednesday.

It is one of 36 auctions being conducted by Auction Nation for Buffets LLC, which owns Ryan’s, Hometown Buffet and other buffet-style restaurants that have been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Texas-based Buffets LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2016, hoping to reorganize and survive with a smaller number of restaurants. The pandemic changed those plans.

“It’s almost impossible to reopen a buffet-style restaurant during the pandemic,” said Gabriel Prado, president of Auction Nation. “From a safety perspective, it’s just not feasible. Buffets LLC has pretty much been forced to shutter all of them.”

The restaurant business has been among the hardest-hit segments of the economy during the pandemic. The National Restaurant Association said about 17% of America’s restaurants have permanently closed so far and has warned that more closures are on the horizon unless additional government help is forthcoming.

“I think all restaurants, unless they’re quick service or delivery-heavy, are struggling,” said Stacy Roof, president of the Kentucky Restaurant Association. “January was extra hard because they didn’t have the usual boost from Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

The demise of Ryan’s was sad news for employees and customers of the restaurant that had been in business locally for nearly 30 years.

“I pretty much grew up eating there with family and friends,” said Calvin Shelton, 33, who now lives in Russellville. “I remember going there when I was 7 or 8 years old. I liked the salad bar, the ice cream machine and all the choices of food.”

Meeting customers like Shelton is something that Warren County resident Barbara Meeks said she misses from her days as a waitress at Ryan’s.

“I met a lot of wonderful people there,” Meeks said. “They became good friends. It was a busy place, especially on weekends. People would be lined up out the door.”

Now the only lines will be Wednesday and Thursday for loading items purchased during the auction.

“The auction should give people a chance to purchase some memorabilia from the restaurant or to buy some equipment,” Prado said. “There are still a lot of restaurants being opened during the pandemic. You can open a restaurant more cheaply with used equipment.”

– More information about the auction can be found at the auctionnation.com website.

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

​– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.