When Fast Food Goes Green

When Fast Food Goes Green

The partners at Sweetgreen wanted to come up with a new concept for fast food when they started their business right out of college.
Image: Courtesy of Sweetgreen

It’s all very hip, very green, and very targeted to what you might call the “Whole Foods” demographic.

A fast-food chain founded by a trio of twentysomethings, the concept is called Sweetgreen. It started in 2007 in Washington, D.C., with one Georgetown location, and it has since expanded to six others in the highly educated corners of the nation’s capital. In December, the concept expanded further, to the Philadelphia suburb of Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

But if their locations are in high-end enclaves, it’s less about price than about education, says Sweetgreen CEO Jonathan Neman, 26. That’s because the restaurant concept he and his co-founders, fellow Georgetown grads Nicolas Jammet and Nathaniel Ru, started is all about sustainability.

“We really wanted to create a place that was, number one, healthy,” he said. “It makes healthy eating fun. It’s an active lifestyle.”

The food—a menu of salads and yogurts—is locally sourced and organic. That’s usually another way of saying expensive. But the average meal is $6, more in line with traditional fast-food prices.

But the food isn’t the only intended draw. Hip music is part of the scene. The furniture in the stores is custom made by Counterevolution (a company based in Brooklyn, New York, operated by entrepreneur and TV veteran Jim Malone) from repurposed bowling-alley scraps.

Sweetgreen’s three founders started their first restaurant in a run-down, abandoned spot, as they were getting ready to graduate from Georgetown University. Neman said while others in his class were looking at getting into government or eyeing a move to Wall Street, he and his cohorts wanted to become entrepreneurs. And they wanted to make a difference with the business they started.

“The idea of creating something really drove us, and that’s what continues to drive us,” Neman said.

Even the business model, Neman said, is different from your average fast-food chain. Instead of comparing themselves to the heavyweights of fast food, the three studied companies like Zappos and Apple when coming up with a corporate culture.

“We are a very mission-driven company,” Neman said. “We want to be a company that can be here for a long time. There’s things like franchising which we’ve rejected because I don’t believe it’s sustainable.” Revenue in 2010 was between $10 million and $15 million, and Sweetgreen is profitable.

As for when the mission drives expansion beyond the upper-crust areas of D.C. and Philadelphia, Neman sees a time for that to come as well. “This type of mind-set is shifting into the mainstream,” he said.

Read more: http://www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/entrepreneurship/2011/01/20/sweetgreen-fast-food-restaurant-concept-focuses-on-sustainability#ixzz1BiQDsB3q

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