Call Sweetgreen in Greenwich and a clipped, slightly disembodied voice informs you that the store team is hard at work but that the “guest experience team” — whoever they might be — “has your back.” Quite where it has my back, or indeed what it is going to do with it, I’m not certain, but what I will say is that should you ever wish to get through to a live person at Sweetgreen’s Greenwich franchise, or for that matter at any of the three other local franchises I tried contacting by phone, then I wish you luck.
Full disclosure: Despite the over-reliance on automation, the overarching right-on-ness of the enterprise and the universal lack of sodium chloride (more on that later,) I’m kindly disposed toward Sweetgreen, the fast-casual, superior-salad restaurant group founded by three college chums just two months after they graduated from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, in the summer of 2007. That’s because many years ago, Sweetgreen co-founder Nicolas Jammet’s parents gave me — then a near-penniless food writer — an elegant dinner at their acclaimed Manhattan restaurant, La Caravelle, substituting what should have been the check with a simple card bearing the words “It was a pleasure having you as our guest” delivered under a silver dome at the meal’s end. How can you not love people like that or, for that matter, their entrepreneurial offspring?
Indeed, exuding a generosity of spirit as well as delivering a superior food experience, it can be reasonably argued that the Jammet seniors’ genes are directly reflected in the Sweetgreen business model. Portions at Sweetgreen are large — make that massive — and the general sense of plentitude and cheeriness is palpable. The organic apple has not fallen far from the ecologically sound tree.
What started, in Nicolas Jammet’s words, as “a salad shack” in Washington, D.C. (“we nearly ran out of money; we had no idea what we were doing,”) has now burgeoned into a nationwide, organically minded, eco-aware chain, with more than 140 franchises and growing, with the newest one in our region having opened at the Vernon Hills Shopping Center in Eastchester on Jan. 25.
At a recent sampling at the Greenwich franchise, which opened in December 2020, four of us enjoyed crispy chicken salad with a remoulade dressing; a farmhouse Caesar; a warming “Harvest Bowl” (with yet more roast chicken); and a “Super-Green Goddess,” a veritable trencherman’s bowl brimming with lentils and chickpeas. Salad greens were fresh without being fridge-cold, and flavors for the most part were clear and distinct. Our only gripe was a universal one across the dishes. For all their intrinsic flavors, a lack of salt and seasoning left the salads bland. (Of course, you can add salt yourself, but in cooking generally a lack of seasoning at the prep and procedure stages can never be fully compensated for later on.)
With a heavy emphasis on online ordering for takeout, along with a sophisticated delivery service (businesses with more than 25 employees are encouraged to create Sweetgreen “outposts,” with corresponding benefits), eating in at Sweetgreen is happily still possible. Décor differs subtly among the franchises, with Greenwich perhaps best described as utilitarian chic. The people from Architectural Digest would feel quite at home here. (The Eastchester franchise opened after our deadline for this issue.)
Sweetgreen pursues affiliations with local charities and causes (such as low-income families and the homeless,) while collaborations with food celebrities — restauranteurs David Chang and Dan Barber among them — attest to serious food credentials and intent. The website, too, is right-on, with a banner featuring Sweetgreen’s “youngest investor” and its first athlete ambassador, the tennis star Naomi Osaka.
Technology plays a substantial part in the operation as well. Sweetgreen is an exacting customer and its suppliers — leaf and vegetable growers along with dairy, poultry and cattle farmers — must measure up. But it’s a two-way street, with Sweetgreen facilitating and often funding new technology to develop a riper, tastier, healthier end-product.
At Sweetgreen, world cuisines are fused without a shred of self-consciousness (Californian beds down with Middle Eastern; Asian steps out with Mediterranean), and culinary solecisms abound as tomatoes storm a Caesar salad and almonds and sweet potato infiltrate a classic cobb. But there’s no mistaking the enthusiasm behind the creative process. And, after all, if a “salad” is not an amalgamation by another name, then what is it?
For more, visit sweetgreen.com.