The Salad Days of Sweetgreen

In 2007, after graduating from Georgetown University, Nicolas Jammet, Jonathan Nemen, and Nathaniel Ru founded Sweetgreen in Washington DC. A farm-to-table salad restaurant, they have expanded to 31 locations nationwide and expect that to grow to 40 by the end of the year. While their first shop was funded with the help of 40 friends and relatives, they have now completed three rounds of venture capital funding totaling $95 million.


The children of entrepeneurs, the three friends decided traditional jobs didn’t appeal to them. The desire to find better food options in Georgetown and the desire to start a business of their own, led them to begin Sweetgreen. They have created a business where their passion shows. Sourcing organic ingredients from local farmers, supporting local communities, and building relationships, it’s all about a lifestyle and a set of values.


Eight years later, they are having tremendous success and their partnership is still strong. Having started as friends, they now work together and even live next to one another. One reason for their success is the fact that they are all highly disciplined hard workers. Nathaniel Ru has talked about the challenges of scaling up. The three partners have worked in every role in the company and, he says, it can sometimes be difficult to let go and give that work over to the team you create.


The three partners have been innovative on several fronts. Technology plays a big part in the business. Thirty percent of Sweetgreen’s transactions take place from their website or mobile app, making it possible for people to order their food and bypass long waits in line. “Technology has always been a part of our DNA,” Nathaniel Ru said.


They have also spent time rethinking management strategies. To stay close to customers, the corporate office almost completely closes down five times a year so that everyone can work in the restaurants. Having recently opened offices in Los Angeles, the company is now bicoastal and has no centralized headquarters. “We don’t believe in big corporate headquarters,” Ru says. “We wanted to decentralize our headcount.”


Employees wear t-shirts with the words “passion x purpose” written on the back and it seems to be this collective belief in something worth doing that is the driving force behind the company.