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You might have read that Sweetgreen is headed to Philadelphia. The ever-expanding chain plans to open its first shop outside the D.C. area with a store in Ardmore, the suburban community that co-owner Nicolas Jammet describes as Philly’s Bethesda.
The three Georgetown grads who started Sweetgreen — Jammet, Jonathan Neman, and Nathaniel Ru—had looked at other, more obvious cities like Los Angeles and New York but decided Philly was a better fit from both a business and philosophical standpoint. Philly is not only closer to D.C., which helps with oversight of the operations, but it’s also richer with the kind of customers that tend to flock to Sweetgreen: people with strong loyalties.
If Philly has anything, it’s loyal residents. Just ask any visiting sports team to the City of Not-So-Brotherly Love for visiting sports teams.
“We love that city,” Jammet says. “We think there’s a big opportunity there.”
So big, in fact, that the three owners have already signed a second lease for a Sweetgreen in Philadelphia proper.
The Philly outlets are just part of Sweetgreen’s overall expansion plan, Jammet says. By the end of this year, the chain expects to have eight or nine stores operating, with another eight set to open next year. A recent infusion of capital has allowed the three partners to greatly expand not only Sweetgreen’s reach but also the company itself. Sweetgreen employs 250 people and has a new corporate office in a converted rowhouse in Dupont.
Sweetgreen’s growth, however, is not about being the biggest salad joint out there. Jammet and his partners don’t appear interested in competing with Chop’tor Mixt Greens. They seem more interested in spreading the gospel of sustainability (the chain’s utensils and packaging are recyclable, and its interiors often feature reclaimed materials) and local/organic ingredients. Jammet, in fact, describes Sweetgreen has “ingredient-driven” rather than “chef-driven.”
“It’s really building a brand that has impact,” Jammet says.
The issue, of course, will be how to maintain that local/organic philosophy as Sweetgreen expands its reach. Jammet says Sweetgreen has developed relationships with some big organic companies like Earthbound Farm and Stoneyfield to supply the stores when local farmers don’t have the produce available or in season.
But Sweetgreen still has strong ties to area farmers, if the snapshot below from the Logan Circle shop can be trusted. It’s hard to read, but the “Local List” includes bean sprouts from Virginia, apple cider from Maryland, and apples and mushrooms from Pennsylvania. The commitment to area farmers obviously taps into the whole local/seasonal movement, but it also helps explain why, as Jammet told me, Sweetgreen has some of the most loyal customers anywhere. They just believe in the chain.