During their senior year as undergraduates at Georgetown University, Nathaniel Ru and his friends experienced difficulties in finding healthy places to eat. This led to the Georgetown business school seniors considering opening up an eatery to serve the local community with fresh and healthy food. Their idea gave rise to Sweetgreen in 2007. A farm-to-table style restaurant with over 60 stores in operation in the United States.
A distinguishing moment for the company came in 2009 when the founders got a bigger space near Dupont Circle, in the middle of Washington. They invited their parents and investors for the opening, but no customers showed up during the event and for the next two weeks. Instead of panicking, the founders came up with the idea of playing music every Saturday and Sunday outside the store. Their main aim was to connect music and food. This idea brought in customers and gave rise to sweetlife. Sweetlife has become the region’s largest music and food festival, attracting as many as 20,000 people.
Sweetgreen markets itself not just as a place to buy food but as a why? Company. Theresa Dold, the company’s head of digital marketing, likened the company to Apple in that they first think about why before thinking of the what. In pursuit of this ambition, the company has come up with five values that are posted in all its stores. First, Sweetgreen concentrates on a win, win, win which gives the customer and the community a stake. Second is the idea of thinking sustainably hence building for the long-term. Thirdly, they focus on keeping it real, this puts emphasis on authenticity of operations. The fourth is making it sweet and finally making an impact.
Sweetgreen engages in tribal marketing initiatives to help its customers feel connected to a community according to Dold and Ru. The customers can pay through the company’s mobile app which helps them contribute to sweetgreen in School, a program dedicated to teaching underserved students healthy eating habits. Another marketing initiative is to partner with other healthy lifestyle businesses in the community.
As the company expands, the founders ensure that it remains focused on its goals and initial aims. Thus, each of Sweetgreen new stores has its architect and a unique design that reflects local tastes. Every store has a food sourcing blackboard to show which ingredients came from local vendors.
Nathaniel Ru graduated with a BS in Finance from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in 2007. He is a co-founder and currently a co-CEO of Sweetgreen. He has been recognized as a key innovator in food and business and awarded various accolades. Among them, named to Fast Company’s 50 Most Innovative Companies, Food & Wine’s 40 Big Food Thinkers 40 and Under and Forbes’ 30 Under 30.