Skip navigation


Do-gooder environmentalism might sound like a costly luxury when many restaurants are struggling just to stay open, but for three-unit Sweetgreen in the Washington, D.C., area, it’s just part of doing business. And business is growing, the chain’s owners say.

“We knew we wanted to create a restaurant that was young and fresh and trendy, but we also wanted to have more of a soul,” says partner Nicolas Jammet. “So it wasn’t just, ‘Hey, we’re trendy. We have cool chairs and cool lights.’”

Taking an environmental approach seemed like a way to have that soul and also to appeal to the young, urban demographic the company was targeting.

“We also believe in it,” adds Jammet, the son of Rita and André Jammet, who for many years operated La Caravelle, the celebrated fine-dining restaurant in New York.

Run by three former classmates—Georgetown University class of 2007—the fast-casual grab-and-go restaurant sells organic salads and tart frozen yogurt with organic toppings.

The original Sweetgreen in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., encompasses just 560 square feet, but generated sales in 2008 of about $1.3 million without seating or the capacity to do catering. It was a 35 percent jump from sales in 2007.

The partners—Jammet, Nathaniel Ru and Jonathan Neman—opened their second unit, which is 2,000 square feet on the ground floor and another few hundred in the basement for catering, in Washington’s Dupont Circle at the beginning of April. Their third unit, in Bethesda, Md., opened at the end of April.


“They were kind of pioneers in D.C. in bringing a green initiative into their practice. [Menus were] paper embedded with wildflower seeds that you could plant. It was a creative, innovative approach to practicing what they were trying to preach.”—Erin Hartigan, DailyCandy editor, Washington, D.C.

A mobile, bright green yogurt van is in the works, too. Ru, who also moonlights as a DJ, is working on a remix of the traditional ice-cream truck chime for the van.

Sweetgreen’s environmentalist approach has helped its image among customers, local observers say. And that approach is apparent in a wide range of areas within the growing chain.

Most of the packaging is biodegradable—the utensils and cups are made from corn. Reusable salad bowls, called “salad blasters,” can be brought in for refills. Customers who bring them in receive a free vegetable topping.

Menus are made from recyclable materials and embedded with seeds—if the menus are planted they sprout wildflowers. “We wanted to have a little fun with the sustainability,” Jammet says. But it also proved to be good marketing.

The original restaurant was built using antique reclaimed hickory from a Virginia barn. For the newer locations, which have seating and catering capacity, the tables and benches are made from old bowling alley lanes by a company in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The restaurants are 100-percent wind powered from a company called Clean Currents.

Orders are packed in reusable canvas bags.

The mobile truck is being custom made in the United Kingdom without the usual generator so the equipment doesn’t use gas when the van is idling.

Multiuse towels are used for clean-up.— [email protected]

This story is from the special report, “Playing to win: Calculated moves keep skilled operators on top of their game.” To read about other restaurateurs and operators making their moves to beat the recession, you can purchase the entire report by clicking here.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.