Nathaniel Ru and the Sweetgreen Way

Nathaniel Ru was attending Georgetown University when he and two fellow students stumbled upon the idea for Sweetgreen. Sweetgreen, as many know by now, is a farm to table restaurant that focuses on green, healthy, and food-aware salads. Ru and his team tapped into the growing market for more ‘edible’ fast food and since then Sweetgreen has exploded into a success all over the Northeast. In fact, there are more than 21 locations dotting major cities like Boston and Philadelphia. What makes this story most impressive is that it almost didn’t happen, and by all accounts Sweetgreen probably shouldn’t have gotten off of the ground.

 

Sweetgreen was co-founded by three different individuals. All students who had taken the same entrepreneurship class together. Upon graduating they immediately set out to put their idea into motion and see if they could make it a reality. After scouting the perfect location, an old 560 sq/ft tavern, Ru reached out to the landlord to inquire about the space. He was promptly hung up on. Apparently an all green salad restaurant wasn’t exactly what the landlord felt comfortable leasing out for. Still, Ru and his team kept reaching out and eventually scored a sit down session.

 

Nathaniel Ru recalls, “That was the first and last time I wore a suit to a business meeting.” Ru and his team impressed the landlord with their business plans, their preparation, and their passion for the project. Soon the space was leased and within a month Ru and the Sweetgreen team would have landed major backers as well as an architect. Ru says, “We would never be able to do it that way again. The timing was just right.” And, of course, Ru is correct. Sweetgreen probably wouldn’t have gotten the start that they did at any other point in time. But they did, and success soon followed.

 

The team at Sweetgreen have made their restaurant more than just a place to get food. They’ve turned their business into an enterprise with values and ambition. Sweetgreen is all about ‘why’ rather than ‘what’ and that clearly shows through in their work. Now Sweetgreen is as much a brand as it is a place to eat. There is a musical concert every year called “Sweetlife” that sees nearly 20,000 people roll through town to partake in it. Nathaniel Ru stresses that they want to be a part of the community, not just a piece of it.