SweetBerries Eatery and Frozen Custard supporters arrived in droves Sunday to order final rounds of monte cristo sandwiches and kookie concretes before the restaurant temporarily closed.
A demolished building will sit on the corner of Northwest 13th Street and Fifth Avenue until developers finalize plans to build five-story townhomes catered to UF students. The new restaurant location will replace the now-closed Fletcher’s Cocktail Lounge at Fifth Avenue and Sixth Street, about three blocks north of Karma Cream and seven blocks east from its original location, SweetBerries owner Jane Osmond said. She expects it will reopen in November, and a potential on-campus location may open sooner.
The famed custard and sandwich shop will be added to the list of Gainesville staples falling victim to big developers. The Swamp, a long-standing restaurant and bar in Midtown, was demolished in 2020 and replaced by apartments; it will reopen in the Gainesville Innovation District in August.
SweetBerries’ trademark patio remains stocked with memories for Romy Miller, a 23-year-old UF law student and food blogger. She frequented the restaurant during her undergraduate experience, and it remains one of her favorite local establishments.
“This is definitely a trend; it’s definitely upsetting,” Miller said. “I don’t know why so many apartments are being built.”
The original restaurant, driven out by townhouse development plans that have been underway since a Jan. 27 City Plan Board meeting — one component of a lengthy process involving the City Commission to develop student housing along 13th Street — may not be as popular with students farther from UF’s main campus, she said. A contract with Chartwells Higher Education, UF’s primary on-campus food provider, may ease some of her nerves.
An on-campus location may replace the Au Bon Pain in Newell Hall and serve grab-and-go items, breakfast sandwiches, pastries, and its usual lunch sandwiches and salads from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Osmond said. She is unsure if frozen custard will be available, but the off-campus location’s menu will remain largely the same with only less popular food items swapped with new specials.
Though Chartwells’ contract with SweetBerries has not been finalized, Osmond is optimistic about the second location. Chartwells, which replaced Aramark July 1, hopes to establish several local restaurants as permanent campus fixtures.
UF Business Services communications manager Analee Rodriguez declined to discuss contract details, but she wrote the university looks forward to “sharing specific information about locations soon” in an email to The Alligator.
SweetBerries and other local restaurants offer healthier and more accommodating options compared to the fast food chains in the Reitz Union, 21-year-old UF dietetics senior Lexye Hill said.
“Local food and places that have those healthier options are going to immediately benefit students because they're going to have more energy in classes, and they're going to be able to actually focus on their work,” she said.
Hill, a vegan with several classes near Newell Hall, expects to stop at the on-campus SweetBerries frequently.
Rachel Diaz-Evans, a 62-year-old retired Gainesville resident, visited the cafe twice the week it closed to savor one last Caribbean chicken salad and pesto chicken sandwich. She will miss the breezy outdoor patio that welcomed her when she moved to Gainesville about a year ago, she said, but the extra seven blocks east do not faze her.
On-site parking and quintessential outdoor seating will live on as the new property’s old pecan trees shade customers enjoying custard and ice cream on balmy summer afternoons, Osmond said. The hospitality will not change either; Osmond is relieved to keep her staff, who detracted her from retirement plans and motivated SweetBerries’ reopening.
Carissa Allen is a third-year journalism and political science double major. She is excited to continue her work on the Metro desk this semester as the East Gainesville Reporter. In her free time, you can find her scuba diving, working out or listening to a podcast.