UF graduate student Sam Weingart has been going to SweetBerries Eatery and Frozen Custard at 505 NW 13th St. ever since his freshman year.
“I’m probably there like once a week,” Weingart said.
That’s why he, like the popular eatery’s many other loyal customers, was alarmed by a Gainesville Sun guest column in February. The columnist reported that SweetBerries was “gone” because on Jan. 27 the City Plan Board—a seven-member citizen body appointed by the Gainesville City Commission—approved a plan to build a block of luxury apartments in its place.
“All the places in Gainesville that have good outdoor seating have been torn down,” Weingart said. “SweetBerries is one of the last few places that you can actually go sit outside and enjoy a nice meal.”
Jane Osmond, SweetBerries’ part-owner and manager, said that after the guest column appeared, she had customers calling to ask if they could still come in for lunch that day.
The owners sold the SweetBerries property over a year ago, although board approval of the plans to demolish the building and build apartments in its place only came recently.
But Sweetberries, which opened seven years ago and has become a mainstay for UF students, does not plan to shutter completely—it is looking for a new home, according to Osmond. She said she has been searching for properties to buy or even build on.
“We like in between the university and downtown area,” Osmond said. “Sixth street is good, maybe even a little further north on 13th street or any development around Depot Park.”
There is no timeline for the move, but the pressure is on.
“I’m definitely worried,” Osmond said. “I’m worried about finding a new location, finding a building contractor, the time it will take to get another place built and what we’re going to do in between if there’s time in between building and us moving out.”
After learning that SweetBerries would only be relocating, Weingart was still disappointed.
“I’m actually legally blind and cannot drive a car,” he said. “It’s so nice having SweetBerries close because I usually just walk there.”
SweetBerries also has Bradenton and Sarasota locations that are owned by Osmond’s father and brother. The family-owned restaurant specializes in gourmet sandwiches and homemade frozen custard, and it offers patio seating.
“The food and frozen custard are different than what you would get at any other restaurant,” Osmond said. “It’s a mom-and-pop restaurant—it’s not a chain.”
Osmond believes that SweetBerries’ unique custard recipe makes it stand out from its competitors, such as Culver’s or BurgerFi.
“It is our recipe, and it is homemade,” Osmond said. “We get what’s called custard base from a dairy in the St. Petersburg area. It’s the cream, milk, sugar and the eggs. The eggs are what makes custard, custard.”
To Weingart, not having SweetBerries’ ambiance, food or custard at close hand is a dismal notion aggravated by the idea of what will take its place.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “Over the past few years, it’s gotten exponentially worse, with The Swamp [Restaurant] and Felipe’s being torn down. It would be one thing if they were building affordable housing, but a lot of these places aren’t affordable.”