Nathaniel Ru and sweetgreen’s New Approach

A humble start in 2007 gave way to a massive idea that perfectly catered to the changing American ideal. Nathaniel Ru was part of a three person team that founded sweetgreen, a company that prides itself on locally sourced and healthy alternatives to ‘traditional’ fast food. When the trio was ready to do more than dream about their restaurant, they had their eyes on an empty tavern in Washington, D.C.. When they first went to the landlord, who also happened to own the building that Ru and his friends lived in, it took a month of perseverance to even get them to listen to the pitch.


Finally, the landlord gave in and heard Nathaniel and the boys out. Their business pitch was only three pages long, only one of which involved financial projections, but the landlord gave them a chance to prove themselves. Sweetgreen was no longer just a dream.


Ru and his partners operate the company under a simple but elegant set of values; make sure everyone wins, keep the community involved, keep it real, make an impact, and make decisions that will last longer than you do. Even opting out of the idea of a ‘headquarters’, the trio operate the company without an official corporate office.


The core value that has most people raving about sweetgreen is the decision to, in spite of now being a national brand, keep every restaurant local. All produce that goes into sweetgreen recipes is local, sustainable, and the menu changes with the season to reflect what is available from the farms. Most ‘fast food’ companies would be loathe to be rid of their core menu, let alone change it five times a year. Ru and his partners have even done away with the idea of a ‘commissary’ – a central processing plant, for items such as sauces and dressings – instead making every ounce of sweetgreen product in store.


Aside from modelling their company after some unusual but welcome values and ideas, Ru and company decided to keep up with the community. Not only did they introduce an app that almost 30% of their clients use to speed up trips to sweetgreen, but to introduce sweetlife, a popular and still growing music festival sponsored by the trio.


Ru has said “music and food are universal languages that bring people together“, and that music is as much a part of the sweetgreen DNA as responsible farming and eating habits.


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