What happens when a restaurant wants to be a lifestyle.
Sometimes, business seems too easy: Spot a need in the market, fill the gap, profit. That’s certainly how the Sweetgreen story reads. Three college friends realized they couldn’t get a quick, healthy meal near Georgetown University's Washington, D.C. campus, so they opened a healthy fast-food restaurant after graduation. Four short years later, they’re opening their 11th location.
Of course, that story belies the sleepless nights and customer-less mornings that Nic Jammet, Jonathan Neman and Nathaniel Ru faced getting their company off the ground, and the persistence they needed to convince customers, landlords, suppliers, and investors—like New York restaurateur Joe Bastianach and Honest Tea co-founder Seth Goldman—to take them seriously as fresh-from-school entrepreneurs.
Sweetgreen has thrived thanks to its brand, which the founders call the “Sweetlife.” The story of their company and its image of youth, health and hipness—leveraged by the founders’ taste in music, their commitment to eco-friendly design and sustainable practices, and their focus on locally-sourced, healthy food—has put the company on the map without breaking their marketing budget.
Of course, you can’t avoid the blocking and tackling of business: Location has something to do with their success, and Sweetgreen has capitalized on the founders’ original insight by placing locations near other colleges, including George Washington University in D.C. and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
They do well by their employees, too, with free salads during each shift and a tenure program that recognizes employees with free t-shirts; after two years at the company, workers receive an iPod; after three, a Sweetgreen bike.
The company is also involved in the community, partnering with local schools to encourage healthy eating through nutrition education and activities like salad-making competitions. Not only are they battling childhood obesity, a growing public health concern, they’re also introducing the next generation of customers to their salads and frozen yogurt.
That’s a pretty sweet win-win.