Nathaniel Ru, a Georgetown University graduate, brought his vision to “bring people together as a community around food” to life with his chain restaurant, Sweetgreen. He started the business in 2007 with fellow Georgetown graduates, Nicolas Jammet and Jonathan Neman, only 3 months after graduation.
Sweetgreen has developed a solid reputation for providing tasty, affordable, and filling farm to table salads with fresh ingredients. The chain began in Washington, DC but has expanded to over 60 locations in New York, California, Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, employing over 1,700 workers.
Ru discusses what he calls “service design” which he describes as “the culmination of storytelling, technology, and design itself. Elevating simply selling a product to a personalized, consistent service to each customer”.
Walk into any Sweetgreen location and it’s immediately clear that this is not your typical fast food joint, even though the prices are comparable. The open kitchen design allows patrons to see the entire process. Customers can either wait approximately 15 minutes in line and another 2 or 3 minutes to order, or, like about 30% of Sweetgreen customers, they can download and use the app to place their order, which aims to provide a quicker, more convenient experience that is similar to ordering in the store.
It’s not just about the convenience of being able to order quickly on lunch breaks, Sweetgreen sees customers returning for dinner and on weekends because they can’t get enough of the delicious offerings on the menu. Delicious, in part, due to the fact that everything Sweetgreen sells they make themselves, including their salad dressings.
Their produce is delivered every morning from local farms, so everything on the menu is always fresh. The focus on fresh fare from local sources is important to the business model and beneficial to the farmers they work with. Ru meets with the farmers personally to find in season, already available crops instead of requesting they grow certain ones and tries to find uses for some ingredients that would typically not be sold. Practices such as these make Sweetgreen a more sustainable chain restaurant than those that came before it.