Nathaniel Ru, a student from Georgetown University, found a void in the food industry in their city as they could not find a fun and healthy place to have a meal. This eventually led him and two of his classmates to open an eatery in the area that consisted of a 21-store farm-to-table style restaurant chain they called SweetGreen.
Once equipped with some backers and an architect, Ru and his classmates began a business that would grow throughout the Northeast’s major cities and suburbs. The food at SweetGreen is fresh and healthy, with the majority of the ingredients purchased from local farmers and purveyors.
Nathaniel Ru and his partners created SweetGreen to not just be a place to purchase food, the founders compared their company to Apple, in the sense that both considered the “why” before the “what.” Also, similarly to Apple, SweetGreen challenges the norms of eateries.
They do this by incorporating music into their authentic venues. When the founders were faced with the opportunity in 2009 to obtain a larger space near Dupont Circle, they opened it with the idea of having speakers and live music every Saturday and Sunday at the store. This connected music to their food in an emotional way.
This led to the creation of a “music and food experience” near a farmer’s market where much of their food was purchased. More and more people became familiar with SweetGreen and became regular customers. This has allowed Nathaniel Ru and his business partners to be more than a restaurant company, and also a lifestyle brand. Their community of healthy eating has reached out to students and professionals alike.
One marketing tactic that SweetGreen uses since they are often in cities that are very busy and therefore have a lot of parking tickets, is to put a coupon on the window of a vehicle with a parking ticket in addition to something ‘sweet’ to counteract the negativity of the parking ticket.
As to not become a chain store, Ru makes sure that each individual store has its own architect and a unique design that reflects the local tastes. Ru also notes the importance of servicing its employees. They hire great people, and often hire friends of their best employees as well.
Stores with longstanding teams have the best results. They offer company retreats to keep their employees happy, and as a way to recruit new people who will stay with the brand for a long time.