The Dish: Sweetgreen’s Eco-Friendly Eats

by John Arundel
Sweetgreen's founder Nicolas Jammet says his favorite is the Chic P salad. Photo by John Arundel

Sweetgreen's founder Nicolas Jammet says his favorite is the Chic P salad. Photo by John Arundel

“We’re all health minded people and saw a lack of fun, healthy eateries in DC—we wanted to create both a healthy and trendy atmosphere that could be a fast-casual dining spot,” Jammet told me over a very healthy lunch last week of greens and iced tea at his DuPont Circle location.

Lunch with Jammet — or at any Sweetgreen location for that matter — was the ultimate tribute  to the “forager,” you know, those people you see at restaurants with a pile of fresh greens topped with things like edammame, heart of palm, guacamole, pears, shrimp, various cheeses, and walnuts. Sweetgreen boasts an extensive salad bar in which customers can create their own salad with different toppings or select one of the pre-fixed choices.

Nicolas tells me his favorite salad is the “chic p salad,” topped with a hummus lemon tahini dressing. For dessert, nothing sweeter on the menu than a refreshing frozen yogurt with a variety of fruit toppings and granolas. Dropped in from a deserted isle, Robinson Crusoe would feel right at home.

The concept of salads on the run has captured a strong fan base.  Since opening its first location in Georgetown more than two years ago, Sweetgreen is packed most days, and has opened new locations in Dupont Circle and Bethesda, becoming quite the hot spot for students, soccer moms and professionals alike who drop in, fire up the WiFi and forage for awhile.

Jammet, Ru and Neman masterminded the concept of the chic, healthy eatery as seniors majoring in Finance and Management at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. The three said they were inspired to start their own restaurant business by an Entrepreneurs class they enrolled in which was taught one semester by Adjunct Professor William B. Finnerty.

The classmates devised a business plan during their senior year and received seed funding from  private investors to help them jump-start their biz. One of their biggest supporters was fellow tree-hugger Seth Goldman of Bethesda, who co-founded Honest Tea in 1998 with a thermos in his kitchen. Today, Goldman’s company is the top-selling organic bottled tea in the United States. Honest Tea is the principal beverage served at the restaurants.

Georgetown’s Sweetgreen was such a hit that the founders opened another restaurant in Dupont Circle in April, 2009 and yet another in Bethesda one month later.

Last June, the team added its SweetFlow mobile truck to the Sweetgreen family, allowing DC foodies a taste of their frozen yogurt on the go. The SweetFlow has become a favorite of scores of GU and George Washington students, who seek out the truck for its tasty yogurts, much like kids to a Good Humor truck on a warm summer day.

The expansion march trundles on, with a Sweetgreen scheduled to open in Logan Circle in late February and two more around the city slated to open by spring, as well as plans to expand outside of the District.

Sweetgreen’s environmentally friendly décor is another reason which drives the success of its concept. Sustainability is a big part of Sweetgreen’s mission, reflecting the founders’ environmentally conscious personalities.

Sweetgreen is one of only a small handful of restaurants in the District which offers biodegradable utensils and cups, as well as a clean energy source. Sweet Green uses 100 percent wind energy to power its restaurants through offsets from Clean Currents, and is certified Green by the Green Restaurant Association. Its menu and furniture also reflect its founders respect for the environment.

Menus read “Plant Me” because they’re embedded with wildflower seeds in them, which grow into wildflowers when planted. The wooden stools are made of old bowling alley wood and the bench Jammet and I sat on was made of five year old hickory from a Virginia barn. Peter Hapstack, a principal at Toronto-based Core Architects Inc., was key in helping Sweetgreen’s founders make the restaurant’s décor just as Green as the food.

Sweet Green is a child of the Green revolution and has successfully made countless customers aware of its eco-friendly motivations by still remaining a favorite of many students and residents of DC. It’s joined the social networking phenomenon on Facebook and Twitter, constantly updating its customers about specials and attracting a following of die-hard Sweetgreeners.

“We feel that Sweetgreen is the new answer of fast-casual dining,” Jammet said. “After spending three years living in a neghborhood with limited food options, the question of ‘Where should we go eat?’ was a tough one to answer. Our idea was simple: a healthy, fast-casual place with a focus on high-quality ingredients. Our vision was to create a place that fuses a healthy meal with a healthy dessert.”

And a menu you can take home that sprouts wildflowers in your backyard.

Additional reporting by Caroline Bal.

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