Nathaniel Ru, Nicolas Jammet, and Jonathan Neman [featured above from left] are the new kings of healthy fast food. There’s a line in Nomad every day that spans a block, and that’s because of sweetgreen – their lunch concept that’s elevated the fast workday salad in cities across America. Stale lettuce be gone; now you can order a fresh kale caesar on the go, or other salads like the avocobbo, guacamole greens and hummus tahina? Intrigued yet? Probably not, since hopefully you’ve already eaten there. We hung out with the three founders at their new Nolita location, and grilled Nicolas Jammet on all things green….
Is healthy fast food catching on? Where did your idea come about?
I think our generation is definitely making healthier choices, but we want to do it in a way that is fun, convenient and affordable, and that’s what sweetgreen is all about. My partners and I were seniors in college when we came up with the idea. It started out as something we all really wanted that didn’t exist. We lived a healthy, balanced lifestyle, but couldn’t find a place that was healthy to eat. So, from the very beginning, we were designing a business that we wanted for ourselves.
Is ambiance as important to you as the food at sweetgreen? How so?
Definitely. Our guests expect food that’s quick, affordable, and tastes delicious, but we want people to come in and enjoy the full experience – to get inspired by good design, listen to great music, and eat delicious, locally sourced, organic ingredients. Our goal is to make sweetgreen a destination, not just a convenience, and for our guests to leave happier than we found them.
You’ve revolutionized the to-go salad at lunch. What do you think it was missing before you guys came along?
How do you decide on music and decor?
The look and feel of each sweetgreen is unique to its location. We research and team up with local artists in each of our markets to help curate the store’s overall design. The music decisions are fairly subjective – but I’d like to say we offer our customers with a good variety. Often times we also host local musicians to play in our stores. We always try to support local businesses whenever possible, and it’s great to be able to connect to a new community in as many ways as we can.
What are each of your favorite menu items at sweetgreen?
Nicolas: The seasonal offerings
Jonathan: Spicy Sabzi with avocado
Nathaniel: The Rad Thai with tofu
How do you decide where to open?
There’s a lot that goes into the decision. We do a lot of research on the community, the demographic, and the neighboring businesses before we decide on our next location. It’s more complicated than one might think. I’m a native New Yorker, so our first Nomad location felt like a homecoming to me. My two partners are from Los Angeles, and we’ve always dreamed of spreading the sweetlife to the West Coast, so we could not be more excited about our forthcoming openings in West Hollywood and Santa Monica this winter.
What are some of your personal go-to recipes?
Short Ribs, a Grain and Herb Salad, and a Seasonal Crudité Platter.
How is the Nolita location different from the others? Are there differences at all?
With Nolita, we unveiled a new design prototype for sweetgreen – an open kitchen that allows our customers to see all of our seasonal ingredients and prep work, and an operable glass wall that opens to connect the interior and exterior seating in the warmer months. The Nolita space also features a neon installation by a local artist and typographer, Benjamin Critton, which illuminates to display the current season (fall, winter, spring and summer).
Where do you love for on-the-go lunches besides sweetgreen?
What are your favorite cities for food? What restaurants do you go to in each?
What’s your idea of the quintessential perfect salad?
Anything with seasonal ingredients.
The quintessential perfect smoothie?
Definitely one with vegetables in it.
What’s on your playlist right now?
Drake, FKA Twigs, Blood Orange, Chet Faker, and James Blake
In the same vein as ‘what is the new black’ in fashion, what’s ‘the new potato’ right now?