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Sweetgreen Founders Tell Business Students Secret of Sweet Success

January 12, 2012 – The Georgetown alumni who founded the popular Washington, D.C., salad eatery Sweetgreen spoke to McDonough School of Business (MSB) students Monday night about how they created the restaurant and some of their core values.

Tired of eating at fast-food chains, Nicolas Jammet, Jonathan Neman and Nathaniel Ru founded the salad and frozen yogurt restaurant the summer after they graduated from the business school in 2007.

“When we got together it was kind of the perfect combination of all of our talents and skills,” said Neman, who specializes in finance, investor relations and human resources, while Jammet focuses on operations and menu planning and Ru works with brand management and marketing.

Approachable and Cool

The entrepreneurs said they wanted to solve what they saw as a lack of places to eat healthy food in Georgetown, Ru said.

“We started by making healthy eating accessible, approachable and also cool,” he explained.

Now they have establishments in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, and they are about to open their 11th store. Each location offers locally sourced, organic ingredients, and the company uses recyclable packaging for its products.

The founders also now employ more than 250 employees and have been featured in Forbes magazine’s “30 under 30: Food & Wine” and Food & Wine magazine’s “40 Big Food Thinkers 40 and Under.”

Value-Based Practices

The alumni were additionally interested in building their reputations as businessmen while making an impact in each of the communities where they open stores.

“Our success is based on our ability to connect with our customer and build a deeper relationship,” Jammet said. When people have a lot of options to grab lunch, they’re more likely to choose a place where they have a connection, he added.

Sweetgreen is also strongly committed to sustainability, the founders said.

“It just takes a little more work and a little more money,” Neman said. “If you’re willing to commit to that, it’s not that hard.”

Great Role Models

“One of the great aspects of their story is how, from the very beginning, they have remained true to their desire to build for the long term and have made choices not to take the easy shortcuts that do not fit their value system,” said Jeff Reid, MSB’s director of entrepreneurship and real estate initiatives. “It is often these choices that help them build trust with their customers. Nic, Jon and Nathaniel are great role models…”

The talk was moderated by Ingrid Velmonte (MBA’12) and sponsored by the MBA Net Impact Chapter, the Entrepreneur Club and the Graduate Marketing Association.