Cleanup at the future Sweetgreens location. Photo: @gmcc/Twitter
Crews work to remove an old gas station tank at the future Sweetgreen location at 1890 Shattuck Ave. in downtown Berkeley. Photo: @gmcc/Twitter

It’s not always easy to renovate an historic eatery.

Washington, D.C.-based salad chain Sweetgreen has been working on its new Berkeley location, in the former Oscar’s restaurant, since last fall. Over the past two months, construction has hit a slight snag, however.

We learned from Sweetgreen co-founder Nicholas Jammet that the site, at 1890 Shattuck Ave. at Hearst, housed a gas station prior to Oscar’s — which was a fixture at that spot for 65 years before it closed last year. Jammet said he and the rest of his team were aware of the issue before signing the lease, and he told NOSH in an email that they secured an outside agency to run an environmental safety analysis of the building. They also have worked with the landlord to ensure that environmental testing and cleanup would be performed if needed during construction.

As it turned out, more than just a little cleanup was needed.

As Berkeleyside reader @GMCC alerted us on Twitter, there is a substantial amount of work going on. Jammet told NOSH the construction team discovered an underground gasoline storage tank, and has initiated testing, permitting and removal of the tank to “drive the best possible solution for the community, the customers and our team members.” The landlord, and an unnamed third-party environmental agency, are both involved.

Once the tank is removed, that portion of the lot will be turned into space for parking and patio seating, according to Jammet.

Radioactive sign at the future Sweetgreen site. Photo: @anirvan/Twitter
Sweetgreen owners say a sign indicating radioactive materials at the old Oscar’s site is “completely inaccurate.” Photo: @anirvan/Twitter

A red flag went up in December when a Twitter tipster alerted Berkeleyside to a sign posted at the site which implied the lot contained radioactive materials. However Jammet at Sweetgreen said this was more than misleading. “The sign is completely inaccurate and is being removed,” said Jammet. “There are no radioactive materials.”

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko confirmed the gas tank discovery, as well as the absence of any radioactive materials: “The sign is a bit of a mystery. … There’s nothing radioactive at the site that we know of. Our best guess is that it was already on the fence, which was rented, and the contractors didn’t take it off.”

Despite the gas tank discovery, Jammet said the store is still on track for a spring 2016 opening. But, he noted, the team will continue to take “every step to ensure proper preparation of the land and site. The safety of our team and community is our number one priority.”

Sweetgreen was founded in 2007 by three Georgetown students: Jammet, Nathaniel Ru and Jonathan Neman. The restaurant serves a primarily vegan and vegetarian selection of salads and grain bowls, using ingredients that change five times a year to reflect changing seasons. Each location has a slightly different menu, and the Berkeley spot will have its own special items. Berkeley will be the fourth California location for the company; its three other West Coast locations are in the Los Angeles area.

Oscar’s was for decades a much-loved burger and fries destination for Cal students and many others looking for a no-frills carb fix. Owned by the same family for many years, the corner restaurant was distinctly retro with its signature scalloped roof overhang, vintage signage, laminate-topped tables and white globe lights. Sweetgreen has said they want to preserve some of that vibe, including keeping the building’s arches and signage.

Sweetgreen will be at 1890 Shattuck Ave. (at Hearst Street), Berkeley. Connect with Sweetgreen on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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Kate Williams

Kate Williams has been writing about food since 2009. After spending two years developing recipes for cookbooks at America’s Test Kitchen, she moved to Berkeley and began work as a freelance writer and...