‘The milkshakes were fire’: Saturn Cafe closes its doors

Sam Albillo/Staff

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After nine years in Berkeley, Saturn Cafe — a vegetarian and vegan comfort food restaurant serving burgers, milkshakes, nachos and pies — closed in July due to a shortage of staff.

Saturn Cafe, formerly located on Oxford Street and Allston Way, opened July 17, 2010 when some workers from the Santa Cruz location came to Berkeley. The Berkeley restaurant was the second location after the popular diner was opened in Santa Cruz in 1979.

According to owner Ernesto Quintero, most of the restaurant’s staff lived in Berkeley or Oakland upon opening, but saw a decline in local workers when many cooks relocated to out-of-state locations. In combination with the high commercial rent in the Bay Area, Saturn Cafe was unable to stay open.

“Even with wages ranging from $17-$24 per hour they … couldn’t afford housing in the area,” Quintero said in an email.

When Saturn opened its Berkeley location in 2010, it was one of the first vegetarian and vegan restaurants in the city — along with Michael’s American Vegetarian Diner on Telegraph Avenue.

The café helped foster the vegan and vegetarian community in Berkeley. Now, the Berkeley community can enjoy vegan comfort food from restaurants such as The Butcher’s Son, Cinnaholic and Flacos.

Saturn Cafe took to Facebook to announce its closing. The restaurant thanked the city and its “unique community” for embracing its nine years in Berkeley, as well as its loyal customers.

According to former customer Chris Meierotto, the café was a place where he could sit, relax and chat.

“There was no pressure to leave, and if I wanted to drink 10 cups of coffee while reading, I could do so without the stress or noise of other cafes,” Meierotto said in an email.

Meierotto was also thankful for the vegetarian interpretation of “classic Americana.” Saturn Cafe helped sustain the iconic American culture, while making it available to plant-based eaters.

Meierotto was especially sad at the loss of Saturn’s vegan pies, which he said were always “done right” with a flaky, but not too dry, crust and fresh tart fillings. Meierotto added that the fries were some of the best that he and his wife have had.

UC Berkeley senior Jacob Sese expressed disappointment when he heard about the café’s departure from Berkeley. Sese raved about Saturn’s milkshakes and even claimed he constantly forgot the café only served vegetarian food. Sese also praised Saturn for using paper straws “since day one,” showing its commitment to sustainability.

“I’m really devastated that they (closed),” Sese said. “It was a place I (went) to to reward myself, because the milkshakes were fire.”

Contact Marc Escobar and Maria Young at [email protected].