Sweetgreen, the salad chain that has won the heart of tech investors, is growing beyond the East Coast with its first California location, opening Thursday in West Hollywood.
“L.A. has always been where we wanted to go. So much of what we consider ‘the sweetlife’ was inspired by L.A. and the way people live there,” Sweetgreen cofounder Jonathan Neman said to Business Insider.
The “sweetlife,” he says, is about living your best life.
“You don’t have to compromise,” Neman said. “You can have great food that is also healthy and also affordable in a cool environment.”
Neman is a Los Angeles native, as is his cofounder Nathaniel Ru. The company’s third cofounder, Nicolas Jammet, is from New York City.
The three met while students at Georgetown. They started Sweetgreen in 2007, focusing on sourcing ingredients from local farms to create salads that are healthy, quick, and affordable.
“It was great to start in D.C. and expand there, but we never thought we’d be on the East Coast this long,” Neman said. “We just thought it was time.”
Sweetgreen’s first California location will open Thursday on West 3rd Street in West Hollywood, not far from the farmers’ market. A second will open on 4th Street in Santa Monica in July.
Sweetgreen gets its ingredients from local farms, so a few of the core menu items will be different in the California restaurants.
There will be a new veggie bowl called the “West Grove,” a nod to the first store’s neighbourhood. Another new item is a rice bowl called the “Hollywood Bowl.”
Each Sweetgreen store has chalkboard that lists the local ingredients on offer, as well as the farms they were sourced from.
“We had to get a much bigger board for California,” Neman said. “It’s the same Sweetgreen, but a slightly different experience — but that’s how it should be, because that’s what nature created.”
Los Angeles is a competitive market for healthy food. Tender Greens, another salad chain, has an almost cult-like following in southern California.
“There’s a lot of healthy food in L.A., so you’d think there are a lot of options. But when you actually look at it, they’re not doing what we’re doing,” Neman said. “We’re very friendly with other people in the healthy food space, including Tender Greens. We believe that, together with them and other healthy places, we can make the world better.”
Sweetgreen currently partners with FoodCorps to offer a health and wellness class to underserved schools on the East Coast. Called “Sweetgreen in Schools,” the workshop currently reaches about 2,500 students.
Sweetgreen will bring the educational program to several Los Angeles schools, though they have not yet selected which ones. All proceeds from the West Hollywood store’s first day of business will go to the Garden School Foundation, a Los Angeles organisation focused on food and education.
“You can’t have a successful business in an unsuccessful community,” Neman said. “We’re showing how healthy eating doesn’t have to be scary.”
Much has been made of Sweetgreen’s tech-industry investors.
In November 2014, the chain announced that it had received an additional $US18.5 million in funding from Revolution Growth, an investment fund from AOL cofounder Steve Case and fellow former AOL execs Ted Leonsis and Donn Davis.
Behance cofounder Scott Belsky, Stonyfield Farm founder Gary Hirshberg, and restaurateurs Danny Meyer, David Chang, and Daniel Boulud also contributed to the round.
Sweetgreen had previously received $US22 million in venture funding from Revolution Growth in December 2013, bringing its total to $US40.5 million.
“We knew it was important to surround ourselves with good people from the beginning,” Neman said. “David Chang and Danny Meyer were people in the food world that we really looked up to. It was really humbling to get involved with them. With Revolution specifically, Steve [Case]’s partner Evan Morgan was a friend of ours who invested a little money personally. He got Steve to invest personally, and Steve became a very avid customer. He ended up making a bigger investment.”
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