Cocktail Recipes, Spirits, and Local Bars

Sweetgreen Opens in New York City

Sweetgreen Opens in New York City

The first outpost of the Washington, D.C.-based salad and fro-yo chain Sweetgreen has opened in New York’s NoMad neighborhood, on Broadway on the stretch between Madison Square Park and Herald Square.

The organic, farm-to-table chain now has 20 locations, and a visit will make it pretty clear right away that there’s a major "green" thing going on here. The sources for several dozen of the vegetables and herbs used in their food are listed on a chalkboard, all packaging is eco-friendly, there are separate receptacles for recycling and compostable trash, and just about all the furnishings are made from recycled materials in one way or another.

The space was designed by Leong Leong, whose clients include the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and Queens’ P.S. 1 museum; this represents their first restaurant. It’s a stark white space, with a variety of self-serve juices up front and a large salad bar directly behind that. There’s bleacher seating in the rear of the space (taken from an upstate gym) that will double as a stage for live music, farmer lectures, and demos.

Beverage selections include fresh-made lemonade (in watermelon and blueberry-basil flavors), cucumber limeade, fair trade iced tea, wine, and beer. There are six varieties of frozen yogurt made with organic fat-free yogurt, and you can design your own salad or choose one from the eight signature salads with names like "Earth Bowl," "Guacamole Greens," and "Spicy Sabzi." There are also some grain bowls for those looking for something heartier, and soups. Salads average around eight bucks.

The chain has plans to open an additional New York outpost, in Tribeca, this winter. They’ve conquered D.C., Virginia, Maryland, Philadelphia, and Boston, and it’s clear that they’re certainly ready for prime time with this New York opening.


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Tony W.

  • From Assistant Coach to Social Impact Coordinator
  • Favorite Core Value: Make An Impact
  • Loves the Shroomami

Working for sweetgreen has pushed me to do things I’ve never done before and to believe in myself in order to accomplish my goals.

Jen D.

  • Customer Experience Manager to Director of Customer Experience
  • Favorite Core Value: Keep It Real
  • Loves the Spicy Thai

At sweetgreen, I’m empowered to look at the landscape of the business, identify where I can have the biggest impact, and run with a solution.

Christian F.

  • Kitchen Captain to Area Leader New York
  • Favorite Core Value: Keep It Real
  • Loves the Guacamole Greens

I come from a teaching background, and sweetgreen allows me to continue nurturing that passion. It’s opened me up to many forms of teaching through my time as a trainer.


Contents

The seasonal menu is a rotation of three regional, seasonal dishes in each market. [11] [12]

Sweetgreen serves up a variety of salads, warm bowls, plates, sides, and shareables. Their seasonal menu rotates 5 times a year, based on seasonality, and location [13] - offering customers a variety of fresh produce in their peak ripeness no matter what time of year. Some of the most popular menu items include the Kale Caesar and the Harvest Bowl [14] .

In January of 2021, Sweetgreen announced the launch of its take on the beloved Crispy Chicken Salad. [15] To celebrate, the fast casual restaurant teamed up with Peloton instructor and TEDx speaker Ally Love, YouTuber + top live streamer Valkyrae, [16] and viral Houston Ballet Soloist Harper Watters to create their own custom crispy collections - only available on the sg app.

Sweetgreen has invested heavily into their app experience. The brand launched their mobile app in 2015, [17] and has continued to update the experience for guests. Perks of the app include ordering ahead of time, selecting dietary restrictions, ability to share nutritional info from the Sweetgreen app to Apple’s health app, and paying with the app to earn rewards. In May of 2020, the brand added order status tracking and push notifications in real time, allowing the customers to know exactly when their order is received, being prepared, and ready for pickup. [18]

In January of 2020, Sweetgreen launched its own native delivery service within their app [19] . Customers can order Sweetgreen for delivery through the brand’s mobile app and website.

Collaborations Edit

Naomi Osaka Edit

In May of 2021, Sweetgreen announced their first-ever national athlete ambassador and their youngest investor to date, Naomi Osaka. The partnership also marks the first food collaboration for Osaka, a three-time Grand Slam singles champion, philanthropist, and advocate. Players like Sweetgreen - with the help of like-minded supporters like Osaka - are redefining what that industry will look like. Osaka is a longtime Sweetgreen customer and is a firm believer that the food she eats fuels her on and off the court. For the tennis star, that means eating food that treats you right physically and mentally, a message that she hopes to spread to her young followers through this partnership. Osaka worked with Sweetgreen’s culinary team to design a custom bowl that will debut nationwide and will only be available via the Sweetgreen app for pickup or delivery. The Naomi Osaka Bowl, her typical go-to order, features warm quinoa, baby spinach, cilantro, tomato, tortilla chips, raw carrots, goat cheese, blackened chicken, lime-cilantro jalapeno vinaigrette, avocado, and Sweetgreen hot sauce. In celebration of their partnership, Sweetgreen and Naomi, jointly supported The Asian American Foundation in their effort to advance equity in the AAPI community. [20]

David Chang Edit

In February 2020, Sweetgreen partnered with Momofuku’s David Chang to launch the Tingly Sweet Potato and Kelp Bowl. The collaboration not only brought much-needed business to the Maine economy, whose lobstermen’s catch was down 40% last year, but also helped reverse the acidification of these waters as well as the negative effects that a lower pH has on marine life through the use of sustainable kelp. The bowl featured kale, marinated kelp, seasoned white sweet potato, roasted chicken, tomatoes, cabbage, wild rice, a lime-cashew dressing, and two seasoning blends, including Momofuku’s Tingly Seasoned Salt. [21]

Dan Barber and Blue Hill Edit

In the summer of 2015 Sweetgreen partnered with Chef Dan Barber to create Blue Hill's "wastED" salad which uses food "scraps that are commonly thrown away. The purpose of the collaboration was to teach consumers about the country's food waste problem and encourage people to use plant parts that are often "wasted." [22]

Jon and Vinny Edit

Upon entering the Los Angeles market in 2015, Sweetgreen teamed up with the dynamic chef duo Jon and Vinny to create the "Za'atar Salad." A portion of the sales went directly to support the local partner for Sweetgreen in schools. [23]

Kendrick Lamar Edit

In 2015, in the lead up to the Sweetlife music festival, Sweetgreen collaborated with musician Kendrick Lamar leading up to his second appearance at the sweetlife music festival. The salad, named "Beets Don't Kale My Vibe," was a pun playing off one of Lamar's most well known lyrics. The collaboration received an enormous amount of press and coverage with over 100 articles featuring the salad, and 10% of proceeds from the salad went to FoodCorps to connect kids to real food. [24]

Momofuku Edit

Sweetgreen collaborated with David Chang of Momofuku to create a new salad dressing that was featured in the New York locations during the summer of 2014. The "Hozon Salad" used Momofuku's sunflower hosanna in the dressing on a bowl of kale, sunflower sprouts, kale, roasted chicken, onions, carrots, cucumbers, missed seeds and basil. [25]

Mark Bittman Edit

Cookbook author and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman worked with Sweetgreen in the Spring of 2014 to create the April VB6 Salad. Bittman created the VB6 diet where you eat only vegan before 6pm in order to lose weight and "restore health." [26]

Nancy Silverton Edit

James Beard Award Winning Chef, Nancy Silverton, partnered with Sweetgreen to create a limited edition chopped salad for the brand in 2018. Her famous recipe includes radicchio, chickpeas, pepperoncini, provolone, and salami. [27]

Michael Solomonov Edit

In 2017, the fast-casual chain teamed up with Michael Solomonov to create the Zahav Bowl - a bowl exclusively available for the Philadelphia area. The bowl was a mix of hot chickpeas, kale, turmeric roasted cauliflower, roasted chicken, shredded carrots, almonds, and Sweetgreen's housemade Hot Sauce. The bowl was finished with two toppings developed by Solomonov: dill and mint combo and a lemon dill tahini dressing. [28]

Danny Bowein Edit

The Mission Chinese Food owner collaborated with Sweetgreen for a limited time ‘Tiger Bowl’ in 2017. The bowl included organic spinach, organic wild rice, shiso, shredded carrots, cucumbers, spicy sunflower seeds, pears, kimchi, sesame roasted tofu, nori furikake, and savory tiger dressing. [29]

Liz Prueitt Edit

Tartine Manufactory’s Liz Prueitt teamed up with the fast casual brand in 2017 to create a ‘purple saturated’ bowl with purple carrots, baby greens, romaine, raw peppers, shaved radish, raw beets, goat cheese, basil, and hemp seeds dressed with an apple cider vinaigrette.

Ken Oringer Edit

In 2017, Ken Oringer brought the ‘Toro Bowl’ to Sweetgreen’s Boston locations. Inspired by the Spanish flavor combinations at Oringer’s South End restaurant Toro, the bowl featured quinoa, hot chickpeas, kale, roasted potatoes, radishes, basil, lemon, and feta cheese. It also comes with two new items he developed specifically for Sweetgreen: a jalapeño yogurt dressing and roasted corn with tomatoes and jalapeños. [30]

Chris Shepherd Edit

Upon opening in Houston in 2019, Sweetgreen partnered with James Beard Award winner Chris Shepherd to create the Southern Chop Bowl. A riff on the classic Caesar, the salad featured blackened chicken thighs, apples, raw corn, tomatoes, shredded cabbage, red onions, organic arugula, chopped romaine, pimento cheese, pecans, topped with a vinaigrette. [31]

Sweetgreen raised its initial $375,000 of startup funding from investors including the three founders' parents, Joe Bastianich, Seth Goldman, and Washington's Latino Economic Development Center. [1] [32] In 2013, it accepted a $22 million investment from Revolution Growth, a venture capital fund founded by Steve Case. [33] In 2014, it received $18.5 million in investment from Revolution Growth. In 2015, it raised an additional $35 million in investment under the lead of T. Rowe Price with contributions from existing investor Revolution Growth. [34] The company has raised over $95 million to date.

The startup recently raised a $200 million Series H round led by Fidelity that valued the company at more than $1 billion. This round brings Sweetgreen's total amount of funding to $365 million. [35] In the fall of 2019, sweetgreen raised an additional $150 million Series I round led by Lone Pine Capital and D1 Capital partners, bringing the company’s total valuation to $1.6 Billion. [36]

sweetgreen goes to great lengths to work with farmers who are doing the right thing and source locally wherever possible. Sweetgreen believes in a transparent supply chain - currently working with over 250 farmers nationwide. In their stores you can see the sources listed on the wall outlining where each ingredient gets from farm to bowl. [37]

In February 2021, sweetgreen announced their commitment to becoming Carbon Neutral by 2027. The six-year plan of attack: Reducing their carbon by 50% and meaningfully offsetting where reduction isn’t yet possible. [38] As part of sweetgreen’s ongoing commitment to sustainability, in 2020 the company also partnered with FootPrint, to roll out PFAS-free, compostable packaging. [39]

As they continue to scale, sweetgreen is reimagining what the future of the food system can look like.

sweetgreen has been dedicated to leading with purpose and making sustainable decisions. For every bowl sold on grand opening day with every new restaurant opening, sweetgreen donates a bowl to a local impact partner committed to alleviating food insecurity in the community. Sweetgreen also provides meals to help fuel local efforts working to further racial equity and create sustainable change, such as BLM chapters, grassroots organizers, and pro-bono lawyers.

During the onset of the COVID19 crisis, sweetgreen announced the launch of the sweetgreen Impact Outpost Fund in partnership with World Central Kitchen to deliver free meals to hospital workers on the frontlines. [40] In 2020, the company served more than 400,000 meals to over 400 hospitals nationwide. [41]

Sweetgreen made it easier for employees to vote in the 2020 election by providing up to 3 hours of paid time off for all hourly employees [42] to either vote early or vote on election day. The chain has also created a registration portal and QR code in partnership with When We All Vote, making it easier for team members to register.

In 2019, sweetgreen partnered with FoodCorps [43] , a national nonprofit dedicated to connecting kids to healthy food in schools to further food education. Sweetgreen committed $1 million over two years to support FoodCorps’ hands-on gardening and cooking classes, as well as pilot programs to introduce kids to real food in innovative ways such as flavor bars and taste tests, amplify student choice and voice, and reimagine the school cafeteria environment. [44]


High-Profile NYC Restaurants Are Moving Into Soho’s New ‘Ghost Kitchen’ for Delivery Only

A new “ghost kitchen” in Soho will soon be home to popular New York City restaurants such as salad sensation Sweetgreen.

Zuul Kitchens, launching in September in the former building of failed delivery-only concept Maple, is offering space to multiple restaurants as a home base exclusively for deliveries. Located at 30 Vandam St. in Soho, the kitchen will be home to companies such as salad chain Sweetgreen, Chinese-American fast-casual spot Junzi, and Jewish deli Sarge’s, with a delivery radius of 1.25 miles in lower Manhattan.

Nine separate kitchens will be in the 5,000-square-foot space, with some brands buying multiple units. Fast-casual Lebanese chain Naya, farm-to-table pizza joint Stone Bridge Pizza & Salad, and grab-and-go salad and bowl spot Positive Foods will also be in the space.

Zuul is calling itself a ghost kitchen, which means that the building will be solely dedicated to fulfilling delivery orders. It won’t be open to the public, though a pick-up window may be added at future locations. It’s not the same as Uber Eats’ virtual kitchen setup, where restaurants can launch new concepts online, though that’s also called a ghost kitchen. At Zuul, every restaurant will use its regular menu and pricing.

The company is one of several well-financed startups to get into the business of ghost kitchens. Disgraced Uber founder Travis Kalanick has Cloud Kitchens, based in Los Angeles, while Google Ventures-backed Kitchen United currently operates two locations in Chicago and Pasadena, California, and has outlined plans to open up around 400 locations over the next five years.

A Sarge’s pastrami sandwich Robert Sietsema/Eater

New York City hasn’t been an easy market to crack, though: Many previous “delivery only” concepts here have failed, including Maple, Ando, and Green Summit Group. But in each of those cases, the ghost kitchen was producing its own food. At Zuul — named after that ghost in Ghostbusters that hung out in Sigourney Weaver’s fridge — the founders are betting that they’ll find success if they let the restaurants make their own food while Zuul takes care of everything else, from negotiating the building lease and getting the gas turned on to directing delivery courier traffic and washing the dishes.

Zuul co-founders Corey Manicone and Sean Fitzgibbons are aiming to complete deliveries in an ambitious 15 minutes or less, from the time the order is placed to the time it’s delivered. “We’re breaking the sound barrier,” Fitzgibbons joked.

To do that, each restaurant’s kitchen has to be designed and staffed so that orders can be pumped out in minutes. Then, runners shuttle food to the building’s delivery dispatch area. Zuul does not employ delivery couriers instead, restaurants use third-party services like Grubhub, Uber Eats, and DoorDash. Like an Uber driver, a delivery courier can accept or reject any job that Grubhub or Seamless might send their way, so in an effort to persuade the couriers to frequently accept delivery jobs from Zuul’s restaurants, the space has unlimited access to a 32-port phone charging station, seating, and a steady flow of coffee, tea, and water.

In return, each restaurant pays for its own kitchen equipment, a monthly membership fee, and some pay a percentage per delivery order fee. Zuul declined to share further details about the financial set-up.

For the restaurateurs, it’s a lower-risk opportunity to expand while demand for delivery is high, they say. Sarge’s currently sees 40 to 50 percent of its sales come from takeout and delivery, and those orders are also more costly to produce than in-restaurant meals because of skyrocketing commission fees from third-party delivery services.

In a ghost kitchen, those fees still apply, but in theory, the operation is so streamlined that they can handle a much higher volume of orders at a quicker rate, generating better profit margins than with delivery orders in a regular restaurant.

Kunning Huang/Junzi Kitchen [Official Photo]

Plus, a separate delivery-only kitchen means staff isn’t pulled away for dine-in clientele. At Naya, where roughly 40 percent of sales come from delivery, founder Hady Kfoury periodically has to delist the restaurants from Grubhub and Seamless during peak hours because the team can’t handle the influx of delivery orders on top of the walk-in customers. Kfoury expects Naya’s ghost kitchen to generate between 15 to 25 percent profit margins, in line with Naya’s six other restaurants.

And Sarge’s, which is in Murray Hill, has demand for deliveries below 14th Street but has had difficulty fulfilling them due to fear that quality would decline with travel time. Owner Andrew Wengrover and his father-in-law Steve Thall jumped at the chance to go downtown and raised $400,000 to set up at Zuul.

Zuul is currently exploring opening a few more locations in New York City and will look at new cities after that, which will hopefully give its restaurant partners an opportunity to expand with less risk, similar to opening up a pop-up shop to gauge demand.

Manicone and Fitzgibbons are also working toward leveraging the heft of having Sweetgreen, Junzi, Sarge’s, and others in the same building, from potentially negotiating preferred rates from third-party delivery services to launching a “Zuul Menu” that will include the option to assemble a meal from multiple restaurants. All of the restaurants in Zuul’s first location asked for the right to first dibs on kitchen space in new locations.

None of the four restaurateurs who spoke to Eater envision a future in which they only operate ghost kitchens, but this new operational model is far more feasible for meeting delivery demands versus trying to juggle it at their standalone restaurants, they say.

“I’m not going to completely forgo the idea of dining,” says Enrique Mendez, a co-founder of Stone Bridge. “But it does no good for anyone if we only stick with the dining room and we fail not only ourselves, but our employees and our customers who want our food.”


The New Power Lunch Is Sweetgreen

Last month, when famously grumpy Post columnist Steve Cuozzo mourned the death of the power lunch, he was swiftly scorned for blaming its end on millennials. Though ludicrous in his description of an entire generation, he was right in one way: New York’s old ideas about the power lunch are over. But power lunch isn’t dead. The new power lunch is just a $15 bowl of Sweetgreen, at your desk, hunched over your computer, fueling the increasingly digitized needs of capitalism.

My colleague Matt Buchanan wrote about this in 2015, arguing that the power lunch for “modern knowledge workers, who can no longer escape the confines of their cubicle for more than fifteen minutes before someone might notice that they are potentially not being productive “ is a chopped salad. By 2016, restaurants even started naming their fast, nutrient-rich bowls “power bowls.”

But now, nearly five years later, a winner has emerged as the power lunch symbol for the new worker, and it’s Sweetgreen.

Sweetgreen fits all the needs of today’s laptop-chained workers: It’s in a bowl and thus easily eaten while reading and sending emails. It’s fast, it’s filling, and it’s carb-light and vegetable-heavy, fitting into proliferating ideas around “wellness.” The salads and bowls are also pretty tasty.

More importantly, though, Sweetgreen has won the branding battle.

They’ve adopted the language of the tech workforce, telling journalists that they believe in the need to “disrupt yourself” and naming their newest location “Sweetgreen 3.0.” They’ve leaned into aspirational lifestyle marketing plays: Fitness companies cater events with Sweetgreen salads, and hip chefs like Danny Bowien team up to make special bowls. In an era where consumers want to see companies be ethical, Sweetgreen donates proceeds on opening days of every location to charity and includes sustainability as part of its core mission.

And in a particularly savvy play, Sweetgreen changed the shape of its bowls, which now boast a distinctive hexagonal shape. Today, an office worker who brings a Sweetgreen bowl back to their desk is signaling not only that they are culturally relevant and hold progressive values, but also that they have the salary to spend $15 on a beautifully composed bowl of raw vegetables.

In the meantime, the company — which started in D.C. in 2007 but has since moved to the more “wellness” brand-aligned city of Los Angeles — has managed to raise nearly $500 million in the last decade. It now has a valuation of $1.6 billion.

The company has its problems, of course. It contributes to the broader problem around wellness as being synonymous with thinness and whiteness, plus the Western-centric idea around salads as the ultimate health food. It claims to be a progressive company that’s mission is to “be convenient and accessible to everyone,” but it mostly opens in wealthy and predominantly white neighborhoods, even as it uses hip hop as cultural cache in its marketing.

Still, there are reasons for Sweetgreen’s emergence as a power lunch to be heartening.

It’s expensive, but a Sweetgreen bowl is still way cheaper than a steak-and-martini lunch. Its limited edition bowl Beets Don’t Kale My Vibe, named after a Kendrick Lamar lyric, was a collaboration with the artist, and proceeds went to nutrition education nonprofits. And its website and Instagram show customers and employees who don’t fit the mold of the predominant wellness narrative — thin, white, blond — with promotional materials featuring a famous plus-sized model and a popular food blogger who is black.

But the bigger problem surrounding the end of traditional power lunch remains bleak. Demands on people and workers are higher, and true hourlong lunch breaks are practically nonexistent. Those who even have time to wait in the long lines at Sweetgreen — versus those who order for pick-up on the app — seem to have some sort of luxurious amount of time that the rest of us don’t have. Meal prep and grocery shopping during our brief time off is its own form of exhaustion, while there’s more and more pressure to eat healthy not just for one’s health but also as a signal of being a better person. There’s no more power lunch because the modern office worker just doesn’t have that much power.

In the brief moments we actually have to leave our desks to feed ourselves, choosing Sweetgreen sometimes feels like the most power we can have.


Sweetgreen is Opening August 12th in Jersey City — Its 1st NJ Location

Famed salad chain Sweetgreen announced in December 2019 that it was making a new home at 90 Hudson Street in Jersey City — its first-ever venture into the State of New Jersey. Now, the salad chain has announced its grand opening will be Wednesday, August 12th.

In case you’re new to the name, Sweetgreen is a popular salad chain in Manhattan, with multiple locations throughout the city. Though it’s originally from Washington, D.C., Sweetgreen has locations nationwide throughout Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and of course, New York and Cali. Read on to learn about the Sweetgreen setting up shop in Jersey City.

The First Location in New Jersey

Previously, Sweetgreen spokesperson said the salad spot is slated to make its way to 90 Hudson Street by spring 2020, however, last week, the company shared with Hoboken Girl that they’d be opening on August 12th.

So, what can salad-lovers expect from Sweetgreen? Well, for starters: a whole lot of greens.

Of course, that’s not to say that Sweetgreen is purely vegetarian or vegan — though it certainly is very veggie-friendly. While taking a peek at their current online menu, you’ll find seasonal options such as Chicken + Brussels — a dish of roasted chicken, roasted brussels sprouts, roasted sweet potatoes, apples, raw walnuts, organic mesclun, chopped romaine, and cranberry maple vinaigrette — W inter Squash + Blue Cheese Salad — featuring roasted squash, pears, shredded cabbage, basil, blue cheese, roasted almonds, raisins, shredded kale, organic arugula, and balsamic vinaigrette — Curry Cauliflower — featuring blackened chicken thighs, curry roasted cauliflower, shredded cabbage, cilantro, raisins, warm quinoa, organic arugula, Sweetgreen hot sauce, and cucumber tahini yogurt dressing — Spiced Cider Fresca, and Spindrift Cranberry-Raspberry beverages.

The Sweetgreen menu is also made up of other categories like Warm Bowls, Salads, and Make Your Own — a build-it-yourself option in which the guest can pick their base, ingredients, premium ingredients, and of course, dressings.

While salad options like the Spicy Thai feature tofu, alternatives like the Kale Caesar and Guacamole Greens have roasted chicken. The Hummus + Tahina and Lentil + Avocado salads don’t come with proteins, however, and seem to be made up entirely of veggies.

Beyond Salads

For those who are not salad lovers but want to attempt eating a healthy vegan meal, The Shroomami Bowl is the sole veggie-only bowl on the list, made with organic wild rice, shredded kale, raw beets, cucumbers, basil, spicy sunflower seeds, warm portobello mix, roasted sesame tofu, and miso sesame ginger dressing. The other ‘Warm Bowl’ options include — Chicken Pesto Parm, Harvest Bowl, and Curry Chickpea Bowl — featuring chicken, while the Fish Taco Bowl features roasted steelhead trout. So, basically, options for vegetarians, vegans, pescetarians, and meat-eaters.

Sweetgreen will join salad-forward eateries in Hudson County such as Alfalfa, Quality Greens Kitchen, Natural Salad Bar in Newport Centre, Just Salad in the Newport Office Tower, Short Grain, Subia’s Vegan Cafe, Busy Bee Organics, Medley, Shaka Bowl, Cosi, Playa Bowl, Vegan AF, and honeygrow.

Got a news tip? Let us know — email us at [email protected]! We appreciate it.

Written by: Steph

Stephanie Osmanski writes honest things about health, the planet, and being a woman. Her words have appeared on Business Insider, Parade, Eat This Not That, Dogster, Scary Mommy, Green Matters, Parents, Seventeen, Life & Style, InTouch Weekly, and more. Her articles have been syndicated on World Economic Forum, MSN, MSN UK, and MSN Canada. In her free time, Stephanie and her registered therapy dog, Koda, volunteer at local hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities.


The Delivery Problem

Years ago, Sweetgreen developed a personality archetype to describe its core customer: the “conscious achiever,” a person who aspires to a “maximalized life.” For the target demographic, the founders realized, it wasn’t enough for Sweetgreen’s food to be healthy and delicious it also had to be exceptionally convenient. Customers dreaded the long lines, so in 2013, Sweetgreen was among the first fast-casual restaurant chains to create its own app and allow customers to order ahead on its website. The company also began designing stores for digital volume, with extra salad production lines in back, and a growing portion of the dining room devoted to pickup shelving. The lunch crowd was happier, and the restaurants could radically increase their output at the busiest times of day.

Today, Sweetgreen says its app has more than 1.5 million users, who account for 55 percent of order volume. (Chipotle, considered a leader in mobile ordering, recorded 18.3 percent of its sales in the United States digitally as of 2019.) Soon, Sweetgreen’s primary point of contact with its customers may no longer be the storefront but the smartphone — a notion that has provoked considerable interest from venture capitalists.

About a year ago, after raising $200 million in new capital from firms including Fidelity Investments and Evolution VC Ventures, Mr. Neman appeared on CNBC and talked about Sweetgreen’s evolving from a mere restaurant into something more thought provoking: a “food platform.” On Kara Swisher’s Recode podcast, he compared Sweetgreen’s kitchen technology to Uber’s turn-by-turn directions for its drivers, and discussed how blockchain and big data could evolve the menu into something like a Netflix queue.

Sweetgreen has hired an executive from Amazon to help juice up its app, allowing for the company to tailor marketing strategies toward individual users. In the future, the company might be able to tell a user when the steelhead trout in her Fish Taco Salad was pulled from the water, and match food recommendations to her microbiome.

Today, though, the biggest strategic advantage conferred by the app revolves around delivery. In recent years, restaurants have signed up in droves with food delivery platforms like GrubHub, DoorDash and Uber Eats, despite the high cost — commissions can run upward of 30 percent — and loss of quality control once the order leaves the premises. Sweetgreen has long avoided such partnerships, even as its customers clamor for them — why should it send its business to someone else’s app when it had a perfectly good one of its own?

“It’s kind of like being on Amazon,” Mr. Neman said. “I think they’re dangerous. They’re going to decimate restaurants.”

In 2018, Sweetgreen began a program called Outpost, erecting its signature blond-wood shelving units in office and apartment buildings, where the brand can drop dozens of orders at once. For the conscious achiever, this represents a frictionless nirvana, where healthy food simply materializes. There are no delivery fees and no awkward interactions with the assembly line. For Sweetgreen, it means orders that can be prepared in an off-site basement kitchen, cutting down on real estate expense and delivered efficiently by a single courier.

In just 18 months, Sweetgreen has built nearly 700 Outposts as demand grows, the program could potentially turn office building lobbies into a million-dollar “restaurant.”

Last fall, after a yearlong negotiation, Sweetgreen finally struck a deal with Uber Eats. The restaurant now appears on the Uber Eats marketplace, but pays a fraction of the normal commission in exchange, the delivery company provides its courier network for “native” orders, placed through Sweetgreen’s app. Mr. Neman said that in a perfect world, Sweetgreen would remain off delivery marketplaces altogether. “But in order to do that, they’d have charged us egregious fees” to use the couriers, he said. “So it’s a compromise. They’re using us for customer acquisition. We’re their ‘Game of Thrones.’”

Sweetgreen is now busy building infrastructure: traditional storefronts, off-site kitchens that can feed Outposts and delivery orders, kitchen automation tools, supply-chain tracking technology and its own fleet of delivery couriers to handle Outpost orders. But Mr. Neman knows that it’s only a matter of time before other brands find a way to make their experience seamless, too. “Things like Outpost are a wedge for us, an accelerator,” he said. “But eventually it goes right back to ‘What do you want to eat?’”


Sweetgreen Opens in New York City - Recipes

When they were still undergrads at Georgetown University, Jonathan Neman, Nicolas Jammet, and Nathaniel Ru weren't yet superfriends. They knew one another because Ru sat behind Neman in Accounting 101, and Jammet's freshman dorm room was next to Neman's. But after they graduated, in 2007, they decided to try opening a 560-square-foot salad and frozen-yogurt shop: Sweetgreen. Their friendship grew with the business. By the time the company had 20 locations, from D.C. to Philadelphia, and they were raising money for a national expansion, the three had become so chummy that it made their potential investors nervous. Were these brothers-in-salad for real?

"It was unusual, and quite frankly, a concern," recalls Steve Case, CEO of Revolution and a Sweetgreen board member. "They were co-CEOs who shared the same office and, when we invested, at least two of the three shared the same apartment." (Ru and Neman lived in a townhouse in Georgetown. Jammet lived across the street.) "On one level, it's like, isn't that sweet? How Kumbaya. On the other hand, when push comes to shove, how are decisions going to get made here? How is that really going to scale?"

Jammet, Neman, and Ru call their philosophy the Sweetlife. It means projecting earnest bon­homie always and everywhere, treating their customers, employees, and vendors as they would treat close friends. Sweetgreen's posted core values include "Add the Sweet Touch" (to "create meaningful connections every day") and "Win win win" (for the company, the customer, and the community). Every dish on Sweetgreen's menu is made from scratch, has fewer than 800 calories, and contains no added sugar (except maybe a little local maple syrup). They treat their local farmer-suppliers like stars, listing their harvests on chalkboards and crowing about the new season of vegetables like it's a movie premiere, whether the debut vegetables are "visionary and flavorful" koginut squash, or humble sunchokes. And they skip normal ads in favor of offbeat events, most famously the massive Sweetlife music festival, which they ran from 2011 until 2016, a 20,000-person dancing-and-lettuce bacchanal that spread buzz far beyond any 30-second TV spot.

So far, the founders' sunny approach has yielded glittering results: Ten years after its founding, Sweetgreen operates from coast to coast, with 93 locations and 4,000 employees. The chain is profitable, with its stores' operating margins approaching Chipotle's at its peak (around 20 percent). Systemwide sales have grown over 40 percent three years in a row. More than a million people have downloaded the Sweetgreen app social media is full of fans describing their love for Shroomami grain bowls in ways normally associated with milkshakes, cheeseburgers, or Beyoncé. There are 10,000-plus elite customers, known as Sweetgreen Gold and Black members, who spend more than $1,000 on the chain's salads every year.

In the world of chain restaurants, fast-growing cult brands generally serve their investors one thing: an IPO. Until last November, most everyone expected Sweetgreen to go public and--like Starbucks in the '90s, Chipotle in the aughts, and Shake Shack in 2015--become the food industry's most coveted stock.

Instead Neman, Jammet, and Ru made an announcement so Sweetlife-y that even some of their own executives wondered if the three friends had finally gone too far. Sweetgreen could no longer be a mere salad chain, they declared--it had to be a tech company. This was the only way the company could not only serve customers, its community, and itself--to achieve the win, win, win--but also fix the entire restaurant industry and improve the health of the world.

"We see Sweetgreen as being more than just a restaurant . but evolving into a food platform," Neman told CNBC in December 2018. Of course, Sweetgreen's rank-and-file had heard this sort of talk from the founders before. "Thinking like a tech company" had become an internal mantra over the previous few years, as the chain developed its own mobile app, added digital ordering options like Uber Eats, and made many of its stores cashless. (And, as a result of those efforts, sales from digital channels already made up over half the chain's revenue.)

But this latest tech push was far riskier and more dramatic. The founders had raised $200 million--five times any previous Sweetgreen funding round--an investment that vaulted the company's valuation to well over a billion dollars. In media appearances, they sounded like men possessed by Silicon Valley ghosts: Sweetgreen was a "platform" and its food, "content." They said the company was at work on an A.I.-powered mobile app and kitchens in the cloud, all in the name of "frictionless experiences." They even planned to leverage the blockchain. Not everyone has been able to stomach the shift--already several nervous executives and a board member have left the company, at least partly because of their concerns.

By now, any follower of the startup world is familiar with the so-called "pivot to tech," the notion that a company in a nontech industry is actually a disruptive innovation machine. Are the Sweetgreen founders visionary or just chasing the latest shiny object?

In 2016, the founders relocated from Washington, D.C., to a twee mall in Culver City, Los Angeles, unironically called Platform. It's an artisanal Disneyland: A visitor can grab a Vegan Cherry Heartbeet cone at Van Leeuwen (an ice cream shop first made famous in Brooklyn), wait for a single-origin pour-over coffee at Blue Bottle (originally of San Francisco), or step over to Aesop (of Melbourne) to pick up a bottle of parsley seed facial cleanser for $60. Then there's the blond wood temple of lettuce, the Sweetgreen flagship store, where lunchtime adherents wait in a perpetual line, heads bowed to their iPhone screens, as a dozen employees in T-shirts reading "passion + purpose" tong salad and ancient grains into compostable bowls.

Upstairs you will find the Treehouse, a.k.a. Sweetgreen corporate, where 175 employees work at long white tables surrounded by motivational slogans ("BE PRESENT" reads one in giant block letters on the elevator doors). Neman, Jammet, and Ru share a glass-walled office close to the entrance. They sit together, their tabletops clean except for three laptops, three pale green Moleskine notebooks, and neatly squared piles of paper, mail, and books such as Derek Thompson's Hit Makers, which someone recently gave Neman to inspire him to think about food the same way "music producers think about making viral content," he says.

From there, they lay out the future of the restaurant industry as they see it. "In the past, everyone got a car, and the drive-thru was the answer to that. Now, everybody has a phone," says Neman, teeing up their vision: Restaurants need to appeal to consumers who encounter the world through their mobile screens and expect to have food brought to them--at work, at home--without ever needing to look up.

To adapt to this new world, most stores' online orders are filled at dedicated salad assembly lines, and then deposited in special pickup areas near the entrance. With their sans serif black type and left- and right-justified imagery, even Sweetgreen's menu boards resemble a mobile Web layout, as if to ease the transition for phone addicts when they finally do look up.

But, argue the founders, none of this sufficiently prepares Sweetgreen for the new world. To do that, they have to blow up the whole idea of a restaurant.

"How do you think about the menu in your hand in a digital way? How do you think about the experience in the kitchens in a digital way? How do you completely break this notion of what a 'restaurant' is and what a 'menu' is?" Neman says, finger quotes firing away. "This menu of 12 things, why does it even make sense?"

If you were to break down the three co-founders into the holy trinity of hustler, hipster, and hacker, Neman is most certainly the hustler. The 34-year-old CEO is a fast talker who's prone to making grand pronouncements, often starting with the phrase "At the end of the day" (as in: "At the end of the day, we believe modern consumer companies are going to have to own the platform and the content" or "At the end of the day, we want to replace McDonald's as the global iconic food brand").

The hipster of the trio is wavy-haired Ru, 33, who on the day I met him was wearing all black except for bright white Nikes and a belt with little rainbows on it. ("I got it at a place in Tokyo.") He oversees the company's marketing efforts, and is the one who ultimately figures out the customer experience, both on the phone and in actual physical space.

That leaves Jammet, 34, as the hacker, even if in Sweetgreen's case he's a whiz with salad dressings and vegetable flavor combinations, not machine-learning algorithms or Python. Jammet grew up around restaurants in New York City, where his parents owned and operated the legendary La Caravelle, and he oversees Sweetgreen's locally focused supply chain, store development, and culinary R&D.

Neman says he first recognized the trouble with scaling Sweetgreen the same way as every other food chain whenever he watched customers mosey along the salad bar. It served too many conflicting goals at once: Customers had a few moments to pick an option on the menu board above. Employees, meanwhile, had to both cheerfully accommodate these indecisive customers and prepare the food as quickly as possible. Offer too many options and the line moves too slowly and sales volumes plummet hurry them along and you become Subway.

He came to think of the line as the symbol of Sweetgreen's past. "Our BlackBerry keyboard," says Neman, referring to the hard-buttoned smartphone interface driven to extinction by smooth glass touchscreens.

The company's future? Apple. Netflix. Amazon Web Services.

This isn't the first time Sweetgreen has reimagined its ambitions.

When Neman, Ru, and Jammet started Sweetgreen fresh out of college, the trio's aspirations were campus-size: to build a quick and healthy option for Georgetown students accustomed to wolfing down deli subs at Booeymonger or the "chicken madness" at Wisemiller's Deli. To distinguish their little shop, they renovated a historic old burger joint, hired a fancy architecture firm, and bought veggies from the Dupont Circle farmers' market rather than go through the usual distributors.

The following year, they got schooled in the mechanics of retail. The place they leased had no plumbing, electricity, or space for cold storage. They failed to predict that very few people would buy salad in December. Soon, they had burned through the $375,000 they had raised from friends and family. Meanwhile, "our classmates are at these big investment bank jobs, and we're sitting there trying to figure out plumbing in a restaurant," says Ru. "Nobody understood why we were doing this." It was alienating, but it also bound the three together. "We had each other to share the risk."

Then, Sweetgreen hit its stride soon the little place was profitable, and by 2008, the founders had raised $750,000 and opened a second location. It didn't take long for the trio's vision to swell from viable salad shop to a lifestyle brand. In 2011, they hatched the Sweetlife music festival and a Sweetgreen in Schools nutrition program. From there emerged their Sweetlife brand ethos. "We'd like to get into fitness, apparel--anything that falls under a healthy, balanced, and fun lifestyle," Neman told the Washington City Paper in 2011.

In 2013, the founders raised $22 million with their eye on becoming the next great food chain. Over the next four years, with the help of new professional operators with decades of collective experience at places like Chipotle, Jamba Juice, and Pinkberry, the company added 60 locations. In the press, Steve Case began referring to the fast-growing salad retailer as "the Chipotle of healthy options."

Privately, however, Neman told Case he didn't like that comparison. The founders' vision was now far bigger than that--they imagined the company's sustainable supply chain model could revolutionize the whole world of quick-service food. (Ultimately, Case and Neman--who can be indulgent with his brand comparisons--agreed to refer to the company in the future as the "Starbucks of healthy options").

By the fall of 2017, stores were profitable, and the company had 3,500 employees and a supply chain capable of distributing 67,000 pounds of organic mesclun, arugula, and spinach every month. The growth had come with some pain--in its rush to expand, Sweetgreen had run afoul of employment regulations and missed bad actions by store managers. (Between 2014 and 2017, Sweetgreen was sued by its own employees at least three times, with allegations including pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment, and violations of overtime and break regulations.)

With discipline, Sweetgreen could soon get on track for an IPO, its operators assured the founders. At long last, after 10 years of work and $127 million in venture capital, a payoff was finally in sight. "We were sitting here with a very easy path: Open more doors, go public," says Jammet.

Yet, much to the chagrin of their option-holding executives, the founders couldn't get comfortable with the strategy of a restaurant company IPO: Their goal was far more ambitious.

Over the past year, a new breed of employee has been surfacing at Sweetgreen HQ: data scientists from Amazon, product czars from Uber, digital mavens from big food chains like Starbucks and Domino's. This small tech army is building the Sweetgreen of tomorrow: a food platform that is as dialed into each customer's micro­biome and barre routine--and perhaps 23andMe profile--as it is tracking its farmers' crops through the blockchain for peak freshness and taste. A platform that can take the shape of a quick-service restaurant reimagined in the spirit of an Apple Store--where customers order salads from digital kiosks or tablet-wielding free-roaming employees while sampling local radishes from a tasting bar--or perhaps not a physical store at all. Amazon rented out servers why couldn't Sweetgreen do the same with serveries, letting chefs harness its delivery network and supply chain?

This is not a vision everyone at Sweetgreen bought into. In late 2017, before the company raised $200 million to execute the pivot-to-tech strategy, some senior executives and board members warned the founders that these plans were too much, too soon. Better to focus on store operations, profitability, and metrics investors typically care about when they value a restaurant IPO, they said.

"Transformation is a requirement for successful companies, so begin the transition don't step on the accelerator and reroute the ship totally," says Karen Kelley, who was Sweetgreen's president and chief operating officer at the time. A chain with fewer than a hundred locations still has a lot of growing up to do before it can change the industry forever, argued Kelley, who held executive positions at Pinkberry, Jamba Juice, and Drybar before joining Sweetgreen.

On the board, at least one Sweetgreen director worried that raising hundreds of millions of dollars to disrupt Sweetgreen's own business might do more harm than good. "Having too much money in the business is very dangerous--it can be toxic," says Gary Hirshberg, the founder of organic yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm, who joined the board in 2010.

The founders acknowledge those concerns, and did even at the time. "We're a capital-intensive business, and back then we were running out of cash--we almost ran out of cash," says Neman. "We changed the risk profile and the execution strategy completely. We went from a model that was copy-paste to saying, we want to be the Nike or the Apple or the Spotify of food." In other words, the founders wanted to completely revolutionize how companies and consumers behaved in their industry.

Ultimately, they decided to push ahead. "We were afraid we were going to get Blockbustered, for lack of a better word," says Ru. "The thing about Sweetgreen is, because there's always a line out the door, you're blinded by the fact that it's working. Most investors say, 'This is amazing. You should build 5,000 of these things.' But what we realized is we were actually building a legacy store over and over again."

In December 2017, Kelley decided to resign from Sweetgreen (she is now chief of restaurant operations at Panera Bread). Four more vice presidents departed soon after--by spring 2018, the entire senior staff was gone other than the founders and the chief financial officer. In 2018, Hirshberg resigned from the board. (Both he and Kelley still own shares in Sweetgreen.)

Now, over a year later, Sweetgreen is gearing up to roll out a hundred new locations in a dozen markets--only it will also experiment with all kinds of prototypes, Neman says. In 2018, the company began its delivery service to Sweetgreen drop-off points, called Outposts--of which it now has more than 150--in office buildings and co-working spaces. When Sweetgreen heads for Houston and Denver later this year, instead of stamping out one expensive restaurant after the next, it will deploy an assortment of large flagship stores, smaller retail locations, and kitchens invisible to the public solely dedicated to delivery orders. All this will be communicated with the kind of targeted online marketing tactics used by direct-to-consumer companies.

When Sweetgreen does build those flagships, each will be split into two distinct zones: experiential and utilitarian. In front will be a tasting bar, where customers can hear tales about the local farmer-suppliers and sample salad ingredients like they're ice cream flavors (and then order at those kiosks or on tablets). On the other side will be a relentless salad factory, where orders are assembled as they come in--be they from the store, Sweetgreen's mobile app, or third-party delivery services.

By separating the customer experience from manufacturing and fulfillment--keeping the salad eaters away from the salad tossers, basically--Sweetgreen says it can boost speed and personalization, offering less commonly used ingredients in limitless variations. Customers, it says, will be able to scroll through their personalized recipes the same way they currently surf Netflix, and a machine-learning algorithm will figure out their dietary profile. The founders say that someday soon, using blockchain technology, Sweetgreen will be able to track and show its customers the seed-to-salad journey taken by each individual ingredient.

With all the tech trappings also come new metrics. Instead of same-store sales or foot traffic--the traditional retail measuring sticks--Sweetgreen wants to prioritize numbers like active users, lifetime customer value, and, above all, frequency. Order interval, the number of days before a customer orders the same dish again, will become its most critical new measurement. "It's almost like when you're binge-watching a Netflix show and you're like, 'Episode 2--play it right away!' " Jammet says. A Sweetgreen dish "needs to be binge-worthy," he says, before catching himself. "Well, we don't want to use the word bingeing for food," he says. "We want a metric around crave-ability."

All of this Silicon Valley-speak, the brand metaphors, and the notion of pivoting a salad company into a technology platform, can come off like a crude attempt to make the company, and its founders, be perceived as something sexier--and more visionary--than the age-old business of selling produce. One gets the sense that Sweetgreen's founders, who have been at this for over a decade and are still only in their early 30s, considered the idea of building a typical restaurant chain and cashing out simply unglamorous, boring. "It's a little bit of a hamster wheel," admits Ru, describing the conventional strategy. "Your growth is defined by opening new restaurants and driving more customers into busy restaurants."

Sweetgreen is not alone in reframing what it's in the business of. There's Hampton Creek (renamed Just), the plant-based food startup famous for its mayo alternative, whose founder describes it as "a tech company that happens to be working with food" and says "the best analog to what we're doing is Amazon." (It raised $247 million and has a unicorn valuation.) There's Peloton, the maker of an internet-connected stationary bike, which its CEO describes as a technology and media company, now valued at $4 billion. And, in March, WeWork, the $10.4 billion-backed co-working behemoth, reordained itself the We Company, with the newfound mission "to elevate the world's consciousness."

Youngme Moon, a Harvard Business School professor who has served on Sweetgreen's board since 2016, says it's easy to be cynical about Sweetgreen's latest pitch. " 'We're not a food company, we're a tech company'--I'm sure you've heard it a million times," says Moon, who owns shares in the company. "But what Sweetgreen is doing is unusual. They aren't just using technology to build in efficiency but true intelligence into the system. Very few companies do that, because it's quite hard to do."

So what is a tech company in 2019, anyway? Defining yourself as one is undoubtedly a way to boost your valuation and potentially hold out for an even more lucrative IPO. "We've been trained to think that technology is always advancing, moving, and therefore it's the future--so investing in tech means putting a bet on the future, rather than putting a bet on, oh, salad," says Michael Duda, the co-founder of boutique venture capital firm Bullish. "If salad retail is worth X, but a tech company is worth many times that, which narrative would you go with?"

But Ru argues that the benefits run much deeper than that. "Some people think it's weird that we call food 'content,' because why would you ever do that?" he says. "We find that, especially internally, it helps shift people's minds. That slight change in semantics--these crazy guys who are calling food 'content'--it helps people understand how we're moving the business." Being a tech company, says Jammet, is no longer confined to selling software or hardware. "Technology is the enabler," he says, "but it is not the product."


Sweetgreen, Salad Chain Turned Lifestyle Brand, Shares Unlikely Success

When the first outpost of D.C.-based salad chain Sweetgreen opened in a 500-square-foot storefront on M Street, it was 2007 and the city's restaurant scene was at a crossroads. D.C. had historically lagged behind the rich culinary landscapes of New York City, Chicago and San Francisco -- here, steak and potato joints reigned and "fast casual" was nearly unheard of. Healthy lunchtime options? Forget it.

The year prior, Nicolas Jammet, Nathaniel Ru and Jonathan Neman had been frustrated. The three friends, then at the start of their senior year at Georgetown University, together planned to do something about it. "We were very sick of the food options around D.C.," Neman told The Huffington Post recently. "We wanted to create something, not just go back to school and class."

Inspired by well-balanced, tasty foods they'd enjoyed abroad and on the West Coast, they began developing the concept of what would become Sweetgreen, a fast-casual eatery offering salads, wraps and yogurt.

Since the opening of the M Street location, Sweetgreen's mini-empire has grown to 16 total stores in D.C., Virginia, Maryland and Philadelphia. The company also holds an annual food and music festival, Sweetlife, which in the past has attracted headliners the likes of The Strokes, Phoenix, Passion Pit and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Sweetgreen plans to open stores in New York City and Boston this summer and fall.

The Sweetgreen team's success may now seem a forgone conclusion to those familiar with the company, but the threesome's enthusiasm was initially met with skepticism from their peers and professors at Georgetown. Students and teachers alike predicted that a company run by untested college kids would inevitably crash and burn.

But with majors in finance and business management between them, the trio forged ahead and developed a business plan to present to a Georgetown University finance professor. He told them he didn't want to feel responsible should the nascent company fail. "'I advise you to make mistakes on someone else's dime first,'" the professor warned, Neman recalled.

The team was unswayed. Jammet, Neman and Rueach all were raised by entrepreneurial families, and they believed such doubts are par for the course. "I just knew I wanted to create my own business and work for myself," Jammet said. "Becoming a banker freaked us all out."

Jammet's family history is checkered with notable names and establishments. For two decades, his parents owned and operated the famous Manhattan French eatery La Caravelle, which closed in 2004 after a 43-year run. "From its beginning, La Caravelle was to the Kennedys what Le Cirque became to the Nixons and Reagans, a clubhouse," reads a New York Times article that announced its closing. That year, it was nominated for a prestigious James Beard award, the equivalent of an Oscar in the food world. Today, Jammet's parents sell a line of champagnes.

Previous Jammet generations have impressive résumés, too. Jammet's grandfather was a long-time owner of the five-star Hôtel Le Bristol Paris beginning in the 1920s his son was born in one of the rooms. Jammet's grandfather's brother also owned and operated Dublin's Restaurant Jammet for more than 60 years beginning in 1901. (Michelin-starred chef Richard Corrigan once called it the "most famous and possibly the best restaurant in Ireland.") Nearly a century earlier, in 1792, Jammet's family owned Le Bœuf à la Mode, one of only a few restaurants in all of France at the time.

"The hospitality gene kind of runs in our family," Jammet said.

Neman and Ru also were raised against a business backdrop. Neman's family, Persian Jews from Iran who emigrated to the U.S. after the 1979 revolution, ran textile and real estate companies in Los Angeles. Ru, born to a Mexican mother and a Taiwanese father, grew up around his family's manufacturing and import businesses.

"All our parents moved here and had to start fresh, and all started family businesses," Neman said. "I learned a lot from watching my dad working with his two brothers . it's very reminiscent of Nic, Nate and I."

All agree that a lack of ego has allowed for Sweetgreen's continued success. The three entrepreneurs are close -- Neman and Ru live together, and Jammet lives next door with his twin brother. Together, the Sweetgreen partners do yoga in the mornings at Jammet's apartment and then commute to work together. They travel together on weekends. "Most people would hate each other, but it's really strengthened our bond," Jammet said, laughing.

Their natural partnership and inherited business savvy perhaps helped them ignore the initial push-back from Georgetown, which Neman said doesn't encourage its graduates to pursue small business. "When we were there, you were either a consultant or a banker. Which one do you want to be?" he recalled. But, he allowed, "Georgetown has come a long way since then."

One teacher did see promise in the Sweetgreen project: Georgetown entrepreneurship professor William Finnerty, who offered a great deal of initial guidance and went so far as to introduce the team to investors and to put up his own money for Sweetgreen's second and third restaurants.

Neman, who took Finnerty's class his senior year, believes the professor's lessons had a huge impact on the Sweetgreen brand and what he termed "conscious capitalism." "You can make more money by being good to the world," Neman said, recalling a Finnerty lesson.

Sweetgreen is nothing if not conscious in the realms of health, social responsibility and branding. The store's offerings are wholesome (salads, wraps and yogurt are made with fresh, organic and often local ingredients) and the business aims to have as small an ecological footprint as possible. Neman says its staff is close-knit.

It all plays into Sweetgreen's emerging identity as a lifestyle brand, which exudes a hipness enjoyed by few other companies in D.C. Its sleek storefronts, done up in organic hues of green, white and brown, are draped in wood panels and boast a decidedly modern aesthetic. The stores are especially popular with millennials, perhaps due to the company's active presence on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And the chain's success has been further buoyed by the Sweetlife festival, which this year expects to welcome 20,000 concertgoers to Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md.

The festival is now in its fourth year, and will feature other eateries: D.C. food trucks restaurant visitors from New York City, like Bushwick favorite Roberta's and other outfits, including Luke's Lobster, oyster purveyor Rappahannock, DC Brau, Flying Dog, Mountain State Brewing Co., Peak Organic Brewery, Chocolate City Beer and Boordy Wines. Chefs RJ Cooper and Erik Bruner-Yang, of Rogue24 and Toki Underground, respectively, will also be on hand crafting food and drink offerings.

How Sweetgreen's planned locations for New York City (at 1164 Broadway, adjacent to the NoMad Hotel) and Boston (659 Boylston St.) fare could foretell the brand's future. Each city's Sweetgreen stores will have their own character, Neman said -- New York's will offer beer and wine, a first for Sweetgreen -- and the company hopes to open several more locations in the coming months.

This suggests Sweetgreen is eyeing a transformation, from local business to mainstream chain. Neman and Jammet were mum on the subject, however. "I think our product will be accepted in both cities," was all Jammet offered.

Much of the ethos will remain the same, though the team has sought out new local purveyors to source its ingredients. Jammet says the company is "treating them as their own communities" and "everything will be quite regionalized."


Watch the video: Sweetgreen Phantom Gourmet (December 2021).