Sweet Success (Georgetown Business Profile)

June 24, 2009 Sweet Success

by Meredith Stanton

Ask most college students about their school days, and they'll regale you with stories about classes, dorm life, and going out on Saturday nights. But for three friends at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, their college years also included building a fully functional - and now expanding-business from the ground up.

"We'd been at Georgetown for four years, and we were sick of spending money at Chipotle and Dean and Deluca," says Nicolas Jammet (BSBA '07). "We saw no in-between fast-casual concept where you could get a good, healthy meal, inexpensively and quickly."

Thus, the idea for sweetgreen was born. Pals Jammet and Nathaniel Ru, now both 23, and Jonathan Neman, 24, got busy during their senior year devising a business plan, finding a location, and putting together the menu for their concept of a casual salad bar and yogurt restaurant in Georgetown.

"We saw this empty little green and white house sitting on M Street," Jammet says. "Jon actually called the landlord, which is Eastbanc, one of the largest building owners in D.C., every day for 30 days. We were seniors, and they didn't really think we were serious. Finally, they agreed to take the meeting to get us to stop calling them."

From there, sweetgreen moved closer to reality as the partners secured an architect and began testing salad ingredients, dressings, and yogurt varieties. Jammet, whose parents owned several high-end restaurants in New York, is the point person for developing the menu, while Ru (BSBA '07) and Neman (BSBA '07) handle construction development and corporate structure. Together, they manage the financing, capital raising, and research into different produce purveyors. Before opening in August 2007, the three devoted several months to testing products in Jammet's kitchen.

The "green" concept extends beyond the restaurant's salads. sweetgreen is certified by the Green Restaurant Association.

All of the products, from the bowls and dressing cups to the forks and spoons, are biodegradable. The restaurant uses wind power and is designed with reclaimed hickory wood salvaged from a barn in Virginia.

"From the beginning, the whole sustainable factor was a big issue for us," Jammet says.

Although students make up about 30 percent of sweetgreen's business today, young professionals and health-conscious eaters also regularly turn to the tiny eatery - so much so that in April, sweetgreen opened locations in D.C.'s Dupont Circle and Bethesda, Md. The new restaurants have indoor seating and give the team catering capability.

In the past couple of months, the team also has been building its frozen-yogurt-to-go business with plans to debut a traveling sweetflow truck. They will outfit the eco-friendly truck with speakers and create a social media component, allowing people to track the truck through the city on Facebook, Twitter, and the iPhone.

"We've brought this old-school Mr. Softee idea to 2009," Ru says.

Business has been on the upswing. "We've learned a lot in about a year," says Ru. "Everything from our products to the customers we serve - it's been an incredible journey, and we've met so many people."