Nathaniel Ru Finds Success in Sweetgreen


Nowadays, every Georgetown student knows the name, “Sweetgreen“. Whether they’re there for a quick lunch or a fast snack, every student knows it as a must-visit destination in DC.


At the beginning of their senior year, Nathaniel Ru, Jonathan Neman and Nicolas Jammet realized there was a limited amount of options in the area for both healthy and affordable food. They bonded over the idea of creating a business that would solve that problem.


Not one of them had much experience in the industry, or any idea on what it took to build a business. Their lack of experience surprisingly became the key to their success, giving them the ability to approach every problem they had with a fresh look.


Their original location, a small space of only 500 square feet, made these young businessmen think on a creative level to accomplish their goal: Committing to sustainability and quality ingredients. They had limited resources, so they sought advice from different areas of expertise like restaurant owners, the faculty at Georgetown and architects.


Through their business classes at school they learned the extreme importance of having a value-drive business and understood how the culture of the community surrounding it had a great impact. Reflecting those values, the founders made sure to incorporate community service into their business and it is still a value that holds true today.


Sweetgreen in Schools” is a program created to educate children about healthy living through hands-on activities and workshops. This program has had more than 20,000 children participate and is still continuing to expand to other cities.


Sweetgreen has five company core values that have attribute to their success: “Add the sweet touch”, “Think sustainably”, “Win, win, win”, “Keep it real” and “Make an impact”. Sweetgreen believes in its product and believes a genuine human connection attributes to their ever-growing success.


In regards to opening new locations, co-founder, Nathaniel Ru, claims that how they enter the market is just as important as how many locations they do. According to him, they try to stay away from other fast food chains because they feel it sets them apart in a natural way.


Nathaniel Ru says that Sweetgreen meets farmers before meeting location landlords, since they need to first find a reliable, quality supply chain before opening the store. Instead of demanding particular crops, they ask what the farmers are growing and use the crops available. This cuts down on food waste and exposes customers to new things.


A Sweet Setup: Sweetgreen and Cofounder Nathaniel Ru

Nathaniel Ru and his friends spent their college downtime searching tirelessly for quick yet healthy food options. But if you have to search for something enough, and to no avail- the most efficient answer lies in creating the answer yourself. And thus, his senior year at Washington D.C.’s Georgetown University, the idea for Sweetgreen was born. Some eight years later, the convenient but health-conscious concept initially housed in a single, 520 square-foot tavern downtown, has burgeoned into a successful and stylish chain that continues to maintain its farm-to-table freshness it all started with.


Sweetgreen’s core is a sweet setup all the way around, and not just in its hefty salad offerings (kale, mesclun, cabbage, spinach, quinoa, romaine, wild rice, farro, or arugula for your base?). The restaurant was built on being healthy for both customer and the earth, and accordingly, sustainability is crucially emphasized. Besides sourcing produce locally, this stress on sustainability can also be witnessed in the raw architecture of each individual store. Examples of such include bits of reclaimed hickory, barn board pine, and even bowling alley tables. How’s that for recycling?


Likewise, Sweetgreen is more than just a trendy, metro dive for smoothies and quinoa; it’s an experience. Sweetgreen stresses the importance of community, and as such, makes certain to partner with local farmers and producers as much as possible. Community, however, is not just built in the background for this prospering establishment, but in the foreground. Besides an array of sit-down salads to choose from, Sweetgreen also contends a pretty impressive line of juices, keeping its atmosphere social. The chain strives for outreach in schools to educate kids about fitness and the benefits of healthy eating. Sweetgreen now also sponsors their own musical festival, Sweetlife, with this year’s headliners including The 1975, Halsey, Flume, Blondie, Grimes, and Wolf Alice. The fest doesn’t discriminate on its food lineup either, featuring offerings from both Sweetgreen and -in the truest sense of community- other fresh and local juicers, bakers, grillers, sushi-rollers, and crepiers alike.


It’s no wonder why this keen conglomerate of quality business and marketing got Nathaniel Ru and his Sweetgreen comrades featured in Forbes magazine 30 Under 30 for Food and Wine, in addition to Wine Magazine’s 40 Big Food Thinkers 40 and Under. His endeavor to present a product true to its core values through and through is obvious, and no matter the amount of locations that spring up, he plans to keep it that way. Ru has successfully combined passion with trade, and in searching for his own well-being, has created a more ease-of-access outlet of well-being for others for a sweet experience that values both deliciousness and sustainability.