By Kate Williams and Tracey Taylor
Oscar’s, the iconic Shattuck Avenue restaurant, is not long for this world. The restaurant, a Berkeley institution since 1950, will close in the next month or two, reports Eater SF. In its place will be the first Northern California outpost of Washington, D.C.-based Sweetgreen, a “seasonal fast-food chain.”
Oscar’s has primarily been a burgers and fries destination for Cal students and others looking for a no-frills carb fix for the past 65 years. Owned by the same family for many years, the corner restaurant, at 1890 Shattuck Ave. at Hearst, feels much as it probably did when it opened, with its scalloped roof overhang, vintage signage, laminate-topped tables and white globe lights. Berkeleyside spoke to owner Scott on Tuesday, but he was reluctant to comment on the news, saying just that he was not the forthcoming type. “I’m not a warm and fuzzy guy,” he said.
Sweetgreen was founded in 2007 by three Georgetown students and now has 30 locations on the East Coast and one in Los Angeles. The restaurant chain has plans to continue opening more spots across the West Coast using its recent $18.5 million investment from, among others, New York restaurateurs Daniel Boulud, David Chang and Danny Meyer.
According to its website, Sweetgreen “is a destination for delicious food that’s both healthy for you and aligned with your values” — in other words, organic, local ingredients, served wholesomely and fresh. The company says it exists “to create experiences where passion and purpose come together” and that it prides itself on its support for “communities and creating meaningful relationships with those around us.”
Sweetgreen serves a primarily vegan and vegetarian selection of salads and grain bowls, using ingredients that change with the seasons. Each location has a slightly different menu, and the Berkeley spot will likely have its own signature items. In its LA location, dishes include Rad Thai salad (organic arugula, organic mesclun, sprouts, carrots, shredded cabbage, spicy sunflower seeds, cucumbers, basil, citrus shrimp and spicy cashew dressing) and Wild Child grain bowl (organic wild rice, organic baby spinach, cilantro, peppers, raw beets, shredded cabbage, carrots, raw seeds, avocado and miso sesame ginger dressing). Diners can also build their own bowls, to which they can add protein like roasted chicken and hard-boiled eggs.
While the details around Oscar’s closure are not currently available, it is arguable that the restaurant was becoming something of an anachronism in a city that prides itself on its healthy food offerings — the restaurant is, after all, on the fringes of Berkeley’s so-called Gourmet Ghetto.
Nevertheless, from its Yelp reviews and other reports, it appears Oscar’s had a loyal clientele. And it was among the top scorers in Berkeleyside’s 2014 “Best Burgers of the East Bay” round-up, compiled by reader votes. Reviewing the burger and hot dog joint on The Hamblogger five years ago, Justin Sullivan provided a good snapshot of the longstanding restaurant: “Oscar’s is a cool old place that has withstood the test of time. Sure, it is worn like an old shoe, but you aren’t coming here for the atmosphere. There aren’t many places like this left… It’s not a place you want to come to impress a date but if you’re hungry and need to refuel, it will hit the spot.”
The burger place even played a part in NBC’s long-running drama “Parenthood”, which was set in Berkeley, with the brothers Adam and Crosby making occasional stops for lunch there.
The new Sweetgreen restaurant will likely look much like Oscar’s. Sweetgreen is working with San Francisco-based architecture firm Jensen to preserve the retro design of the burger restaurant. Jensen has submitted an application to the city for new signage and an awning. A separate application, submitted by Robert O’Malin Inc., asks to be allowed to “encroach on the public right of way,” presumably to add additional outdoor seating. Oscar’s currently has outdoor tables on both the Hearst and Shattuck sides of the building.
Sweetgreen aims to be open by this fall.