When people think of restaurant chains they almost invariably think of hamburgers and fries and when people think about “healthy,” or, “green,” food they are almost invariably going to be thinking of some kind of strange vegan tofu product. Yet the curious food chain Sweetgreen is neither of these things and yet one of the most fast rising restaurant chains in Washington, D.C. What makes Sweetgreen really unique is the fact that it serves only luscious, hearty salads and fruit beverages, all of which are cultivated, directly, from local farms. But the success of Sweetgreen is derived from more than just a food niche and vertical integration, it is also to be found in the marketing strategies employed by the companies’ founder, Nathaniel Ru.
Ru and his friends started the company due to the fact that there were very few places in the Washington area where one could go that offered healthy and fulfilling food but that was also lively, festive and fun. Therefore Nathaniel Ru and his friends created the Sweetgreen salad chain, operating off of the ethos that it was not just what you did that people wanted to buy but also the particular way in which you did it. Today the chain is a smash-hit success story with stores in Boston, New York, Philly and Washington; the reason for their success lay in their company policy. As the companies director of digital marketing, Theresa Dold states, “From the beginning the company [Sweetgreen] was more than just about salads. Sweetgreen was started with a deeper purpose.” That deeper purpose was inspired by the software company Apple, whose ethos has always been firstly and primarily about the “why;” why they should make something, rather than beginning with “what” they should make and then inserting the “why” in latter.
Another reason that the company has become so successful can be discerned from Nathaniel Ru’s recent public statements concerning the impact he desired the company to have from the outset. Mr. Ru stated that everything the company did should take into consideration the needs of the community – hence the usage of direct sourced farm products – and that it should last in that fashion far longer than any of its owners. To further this communal spirit, Ru even arranged various Sweetgreen music festivals – which might strike many as strange – which took place at local farm markets. They weren’t popular at first but Ru kept on at it, selling Sweetgreen products at little vendor stalls during these events and today these gatherings make-up the areas largest music festival. In this way Sweetgreen has kept itself from becoming some kind of cold, metallic corporate entity and instead, become part of the vibrant canvas everyday canvas of inner-city life.