“Beets don’t kale my vibe?!” my friend exclaimed. Upon driving by the storefront window of Sweetgreen’s soon-to-be unveiled location in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, my vegetarian friend was skeptical. Is this cheesy saying a sign of good things to come? How will Californians receive Sweetgreen when the growing national chain opens its first West Coast locations?

The author's lunch on an autumn day at the Sweetgreen in the West End neighborhood of DC.
The author’s lunch on an autumn day at the Sweetgreen in the West End neighborhood of DC.

Sweetgreen is a DC-based chain that brings farm-grown produce to consumers in a fast-food setting. From green salads and grain bowls, to freshly-pressed juices and frozen-yogurt, Sweetgreen boasts a very healthy and vegan-friendly menu, and it’s all customized by the consumer. Founded in 2007 by three Georgetown University graduates, Sweetgreen “applies the fast-casual restaurant model popularized by Chipotle Mexican Grill to leafy greens.” It’s incredibly appealing because you can build your preferred healthy meal and order it in a timely manner. The line was always out the door, and soon Sweetgreen expanded from its humble M Street beginnings.

Now Sweetgreen has 27 locations total: eleven in DC, five in Maryland, and three to four in each of Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. California has two coming soon – the one in West Hollywood (on West 3rd Street) and a later one in Santa Monica – thanks to a $18.5 million investment led by Revolution Growth, a DC venture capital fund. The booming number of locations nationwide demonstrates that the business attracts a wide spectrum of consumers. In business districts, there is always a line of professionals waiting to get a salad to-go on their lunch break. By university campuses, college kids in athletic clothes line up to buy a study snack or healthy post-workout meal. Plenty of people also go to Sweetgreen for a nice lunch out; granted, if you were paying $10 to 15 for a salad wouldn’t you?

Called “the ultimate millennial brand” by some, Sweetgreen lives up to its name. Nicolas Jammet, one of the co-founders of Sweetgreen, started the company with his friends their senior year at Georgetown University because they “couldn’t find many options for cheap, healthy food.” Their desire to have a healthier yet cost-efficient diet is now a nationwide business that employs over 800 workers,  has an annual revenue of over $50 million, and makes over 25% of sales via its mobile app.

The author (on the left) at the 2014 Sweetlife Festival with a friend.
The author (on the left) at the 2014 Sweetlife Festival with a friend.

Business experts, like AOL co-founder Steve Case, have compared Sweetgreen to Starbucks and Chipotle for its attractive business model and future as a trending fast-casual dining chain. Yet Sweetgreen is also unique because of its “community-centric philosophy”: their “commitment to promoting healthy, active lifestyles” permeates so much of the company, especially their community outreach. Sweetgreen in Schools is the company’s homegrown program that “educates kids about healthy eating, fitness and sustainability through fun, hands-on activities.” What started in 2010 as a one-week program now involves over 1,000 students in the DC metropolitan area and New York. The Sweetlife Festival also began in 2010 as an annual one-day music experience that features a variety of food vendors, forums with local farmers, and sustainable activities like recycling at the festival to receive a prize.

In summary, Sweetgreen is definitely something to be excited about on the West Coast. It’s been thriving in northeastern cities, sells healthy and locally-raised food, and markets super well with its chic logo (backwards e’s? So trendy!) and inspirational quotes that cover every store. Sweetgreen is also a model of sustainability: they use 100% plant-based compostable packing, offset 100% of their energy with wind energy credits, and much more. Whether you live in an East Coast city and do not eat at Sweetgreen often, or you live on the West Coast and are skeptical about the restaurant’s hype, don’t be. Eating at Sweetgreen and being a fan of the brand will help your heart, the environment, and your community. Still not convinced? We’ll leave you with the company’s manifesto. If you’re not inspired by this, then we don’t know what else to say. Don’t kale our vibe?


© Rissponsible Living, 2015

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