For weeks, Everly Clark looked forward to Golden Corral’s chicken and desserts when the buffet restaurant opened in Maple Grove in September. But she never made it because of the crowds.

“It was so packed that I gave up,” said the Mendota Heights resident. “But the new one in Maplewood is real close to where I live. I’m not going to miss this.”

The Twin Cities’ second Golden Corral opens for lunch at 10:45 a.m. on Thursday. Owner Dale Maxfield, former vice president of operations at Old Country Buffet and now a Golden Corral franchisee, admits that he underestimated the pent-up demand in Maple Grove.

“It opened up stronger than we ever believed,” he said. “It doubled my expectations.”

The strong response to a buffet restaurant is surprising considering that Old Country Buffet closed nine Twin Cities locations earlier this year. Richfield, Fridley, Crystal, Roseville, Maplewood, West St. Paul and Woodbury closed in February. Maple Grove and Coon Rapids closed soon thereafter.

The closings are seen as part of the decline in buffet-style dining. Fewer than 30 of 400 Old Country Buffets remain open. Raleigh, N.C.-based Golden Corral has nearly 500 locations and plans to open 30 more next year.

Restaurant consultant Darren Tristano of Technomic attributes Golden Corral’s success to quality and variety. “It has a reputation among its customers as a good value,” he said. Many Golden Corral customers see its offerings — seafood buffet, prime rib, sirloin steak and smoked ribs, brisket and turkey — as improving on Old Country Buffet in its heyday.

Waits of an hour or more in line were common when the Maple Grove location opened, but Maxfield said he has reduced that to 15 to 30 minutes as his staff has become better at getting people seated.

He is not expecting lines out the door in Maplewood with high winds and temps in the teens expected for several days. Plus the Maplewood location in the Plaza 3000 strip mall seats 380 people, 30 more than the current Maple Grove Golden Corral.

Maxfield is planning to open eight Golden Corral locations in Minnesota, including five or six in the Twin Cities. He expects locations in Burnsville and Coon Rapids to open in 2017, although no leases have been signed. He has written a letter of intent to take over the Burnsville location, the only Old Country Buffet still operating in the Twin Cities. If that location and the shuttered Coon Rapids OCB fall through, Maxfield said that he will consider building new or other existing locations.

Maxfield prefers to open in former OCB locations, but has given thumbs down on reopening the locations in Richfield, Roseville, Crystal, West St. Paul and St. Cloud due to a lack of adequate parking. He is looking at sites in Golden Valley and Bloomington for the central metro customer. Outstate locations in Rochester, Mankato and Duluth are still in play, too.

Menus and pricing will be the same at both Twin Cities locations. Lunch and dinner are available daily with breakfast served Saturday and Sunday. The Maplewood location employs 110 people. Maple Grove has 95.

Old Country Buffet was based in Eagan until 2012 after surviving two bankruptcies. It is now owned by the San Antonio firm Food Management Partners.