Inc.

CAN ANY COMPANY BE A TECH COMPANY?

The profitable salad chain Sweetgreen was on track to IPO. So why did its founders decide to pivot to tech?

When they were still undergrads at Georgetown University, Jonathan Neman, Nicolas Jammet, and Nathaniel Ru weren’t yet superfriends. They knew one another because Ru sat behind Neman in Accounting 101, and Jammet’s freshman dorm room was next to Neman’s. But after they graduated, in 2007, they decided to try opening a 560-square-foot salad and frozen yogurt shop: Sweetgreen. Their friendship grew with the business. By the time the company had 20 locations, from D.C. to Philadelphia, and they were raising money for a national expansion, the three had become so chummy that it made their potential investors nervous. Were these brothers-in-salad for real?

“It was unusual, and quite frankly, a concern,” recalls Steve Case, CEO of Revolution and a Sweetgreen board member. “They were co-CEOs who shared the same office and, when we invested, at least two of the three shared the same apartment.” (Ru and Neman lived in a townhouse in Georgetown. Jammet lived across the street.) “On one level, it’s like, isn’t that sweet? How Kumbaya. On the other hand, when push comes to shove, how are decisions going to get made here? How is that really going to scale?”

Jammet, Neman, and Ru call their philosophy the Sweetlife. It means projecting earnest bonhomie always and everywhere, treating their customers, employees, and vendors as they would treat close friends. Sweetgreen’s posted core values include “Add the Sweet Touch” (to “create meaningful connections every day”) and “Win win win” (for the company, the customer, and the community). Every dish on Sweetgreen’s menu is made from scratch, has fewer than 800 calories, and contains no added sugar (except maybe a little local maple syrup). They treat their local farmer-suppliers like stars, listing their harvests on chalkboards and crowing about the new season of vegetables like it’s a movie premiere, whether the debut vegetables are “visionary and flavorful” koginut squash, or humble sunchokes. And they skip normal ads in favor of offbeat events, most famously the massive Sweetlife music festival, which they ran from 2011 until 2016, a 20,000-person dancing-and-lettuce bacchanal that spread buzz far beyond any 30-second TV spot.

So far, the founders’ sunny approach has yielded glittering results: Ten years after its founding, Sweetgreen operates from coast to coast, with 93 locations and 4,000 employees. The chain is

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