tainly the hustler. The 34-year-old CEO
is a fast talker who’s prone to making
grand pronouncements, often starting
with the phrase “At the end of the day”
(as in: “At the end of the day, we believe
modern consumer companies are
going to have to own the platform and
the content” or “At the end of the day,
we want to replace McDonald’s as the
global iconic food brand”).
The hipster of the trio is wavy-haired Ru, 33, who on the day I met
him was wearing all black except
for bright white Nikes and a belt with
little rainbows on it. (“I got it at a
place in Tokyo.”) He oversees the
company’s marketing e;orts, and is
the one who ultimately figures out
the customer experience, both on the
phone and in actual physical space.
That leaves Jammet, 34, as the
hacker, even if in Sweetgreen’s case
he’s a whiz with salad dressings and
vegetable flavor combinations, not
machine-learning algorithms or
Python. Jammet grew up around
restaurants in New York City, where
his parents owned and operated the
legendary La Caravelle, and he oversees Sweetgreen’s locally focused
supply chain, store development, and
Neman says he first recognized the
trouble with scaling Sweetgreen the
same way as every other food chain
whenever he watched customers
mosey along the salad bar. It served
too many conflicting goals at once:
Customers had a few moments to pick
an option on the menu board above.
Employees, meanwhile, had to both
cheerfully accommodate these indecisive customers and prepare the food
as quickly as possible. O;er too many
options and the line moves too slowly
and sales volumes plummet; hurry
them along and you become Subway.
He came to think of the line
as the symbol of Sweetgreen’s past.
“Our BlackBerry keyboard,” says
Neman, referring to the hard-buttoned
smartphone interface driven to extinction by smooth glass touchscreens.
The company’s future? Apple.
Netflix. Amazon Web Services.
This isn’t the first time
Sweetgreen has reimagined
When Neman, Ru, and
Jammet started Sweetgreen
fresh out of college, the trio’s
aspirations were campus-size: to build a quick and
healthy option for Georgetown students accustomed
to wolfing down deli subs
at Booeymonger or the
“chicken madness” at
Wisemiller’s Deli. To distinguish their little shop, they renovated a
historic old burger joint, hired a fancy
architecture firm, and bought veggies
from the Dupont Circle farmers’
market rather than go through the
The following year, they got
schooled in the mechanics of retail.
The place they leased had no plumbing, electricity, or space for cold storage. They failed to predict that very
few people would buy salad in December. Soon, they had burned through the
$375,000 they had raised from friends
and family. Meanwhile, “our class-
mates are at these big
investment bank jobs, and
we’re sitting there trying
to figure out plumbing
in a restaurant,” says Ru.
why we were doing this.” It
was alienating, but it also
bound the three together.
“We had each other to share
Then, Sweetgreen hit its
stride; soon the little place
was profitable, and by 2008,
In 2013, the founders raised
$22 million with their eye on becoming the next great food chain. Over
Sweetgreen continues to reinvent itself:
from a salad and
in Georgetown, to a
lifestyle brand with a
music festival, to a
company that wants
to be more like
Spotify or Amazon.