Special Sauce: Sweetgreen's Nicolas Jammet on His Secrets to Success

NicolasJammet_sweetgreen.jpg

[Photograph: Sweetgreen]

"My [restaurateur] parents said, 'Listen, we support you, we know that you understand food and you grew up in this world, but a) don't feel like you have to go into food because of us, and b) if you do, learn from us to build something greater than you that you're not tied to,'" says Sweetgreen co-owner and -founder Nicolas Jammet on this week's episode of Special Sauce.

The Sweetgreen team has watched their business grow over the past nine years, from a single 500-square-foot storefront location in DC's Georgetown, which they opened when they were still college students, to what will be 60 restaurants nationwide by the end of 2016. How did they pull it off? Jammet tells us that and more in this episode of our podcast. It's a crash course in food entrepreneurship, complete with a curriculum detour into the Sweetlife Festival, which started seven years ago as a block party to drum up business and has morphed into a 25,000-person event (coming up May 14).

When I asked about the family table, Jammet told me that he and his brothers spent some nights in suits at their parents' restaurant—Manhattan's legendary La Caravelle—ordering soufflé, of course. He and his two partners, Nathaniel Ru and Jonathan Neman, were all children of immigrants born into family businesses, so they were intimately acquainted with the ups and downs of owning a business before launching Sweetgreen.

Jammet also credits the support and encouragement of Will Finnerty, their Georgetown entrepreneurship professor. Another professor provided essential—if somewhat cynical—advice, suggesting that they first make their mistakes on somebody else's dime. In the years after school, Jammet says he learned to trust his gut, both literally and figuratively.

Give it a listen for more on the Special Sauce that's brought Sweetgreen such success.

Special Sauce is available on iTunes. You can also find the archive of all our episodes here on Serious Eats and on this RSS feed.

You Could Be on Special Sauce

Want to chat with me and Kenji? We're taping a call-in show on Thursday, May 19, and we're accepting questions now. Do you have a longstanding argument with your spouse about the best chicken-cooking methods? Have you been refining your pizza-making technique for the past five years, but can't quite make it work? Does your brother make the worst burgers, and you want to figure out how to give him tips? We want to get to know you and solve all your food-related problems. Send us the whole story at [email protected] by Friday, May 13.

[Salad photograph: Vicky Wasik]