In the wake of news that DC-based salad chain Sweetgreen has just acquired $35 million in new funding, co-founder Jonathan Neman tells Eater that two more Boston outposts are in the works for 2015 and 2016, and more could come after that. The growing chain now has 30 locations spread mostly around the East Coast, aside from one in Los Angeles. Another is opening soon in Santa Monica.
Currently, the existing Boston-area locations are in Back Bay, Fort Point, and Chestnut Hill. The first new one to open will also be in Back Bay, right inside the Prudential Center, near where Tossed used to be. With the Prudential's food court now closed to make way for Eataly, the plan is that the corridor that connects the Convention Center to the Prudential Center will ultimately house a few restaurants, including Sweetgreen — "newer, cooler brands," says Neman. He hopes to open that location before the end of 2015. And it's an exciting spot for him: Neman lived above the Prudential Center for a short time after college, and he remembers wishing for "better, healthier options." The Prudential has been on the team's radar for a while now; it's a "live, work, play area," says Neman, "definitely full of customers."
"We are thrilled to welcome Sweetgreen to Prudential Center and offer their delicious and locally-sourced product to our customers," says Bryan Koop, the senior vice president and regional manager of Boston Properties. "Their fresh customized salad options meet the needs of today’s health conscious customer. The Sweetgreen experience is topnotch and in line with our goal to provide only the best and most innovative retail and dining at Prudential Center."
The opening of a new Back Bay location doesn't spell the end of the existing location, which is nearby at 659 Boylston St. That's "one of the busiest locations in the company," Neman says. "It's a really good location. Having another one in the area will relieve some of the pressure there for our team and for customers. For Sweetgreen, the idea is to make healthy eating accessible, so it's great that it's busy, but we also want people to be able to get in and get out on a daily basis. When you think about bridging the gap between health and convenience, this will help us do that."
The second new store will be at 13 School St., a former Radio Shack in Downtown Crossing, located across from the giant Walgreens that opened in the old Borders space. That one should open in the winter, probably in early 2016. "We've been looking at Downtown Crossing for a while," says Neman; a few other deals almost came to fruition before this one. "We've had a lot of requests for servicing the downtown lunch crowd, and so we're very excited to be able to be there."
Boston and Sweetgreen fit together well because of the "really incredible" customer base, says Neman. "[The Boston customer] is educated and socially responsible and really has this expectation of the brands and the companies that they support. The idea of authenticity and transparency and good for you and good for the world at the same time — I think people in Boston really identify with that." He's also proud of the work that the Boston team has done — "they're all-stars, and they've been creating an incredible customer experience" — and Sweetgreen has a habit of promoting from within, so bringing more locations to Boston means being able to tap into the existing "great people pipeline." The factor limiting faster expansion hasn't been the people, it's been the "really tight real estate market." A neighborhood like Kendall Square would also be a great fit, says Neman, but it's so hard to get a location there.
The new Boston locations will be similar in size and design to the Chestnut Hill location, which is part of the newer prototype that has been rolling out. The focus is on the wide-open kitchen. "The thing about Sweetgreen is that all our food is made from scratch every day. The dressings, everything. Washed, chopped, it's all done there. We realized that our customers didn't understand this because we didn't want to put up signs saying it, so we figured, Why not just open our kitchen and show it?" The team is in talks with local artists to add a local element to the design as well.
The new locations, bringing the local number up to five, may just be the start. "Boston is one of our best markets, and we're absolutely looking to continue to grow there," says Neman.
Now in its eighth year, the company continues to place a lot of focus on sustainability, from the use of compostable packaging to off-setting energy with wind energy credits, and one of the goals of Sweetgreen is to show that "healthy eating can be delicious," says Neman. "It can be delicious, it can be affordable, it can be fun."