“A music festival with hip bands is going to contribute to a brand’s image,” Batra says.
In some ways, the income and age gulf between the Sweetlife Festival crowd and Sweetgreen’s customer base was a mistake, says Neman. When deciding the lineup, the three went through their iPods and chose their favorite bands, he says. “I think Girl Talk brought a young crowd,” says Neman. “We didn’t realize it when were booking it so much.”
But like many Sweetgreen mistakes, it was probably a lucky one. It doesn’t matter that many Sweetgreen customers have never heard of Lupe Fiasco—they sense he is cool, and eating at a restaurant that books him makes them feel a little cooler themselves.
It’s the Sweetgreen sweet spot: A young, hip image, and an older, richer clientele.
In the long run, Neman says, he wants that sweet spot to expand beyond salads—with to-be-determined new goods and services filling the space. In an interview, he throws around lingo that even the best-compensated rock festival performer would never talk about onstage: “Sweetlife is the lifestyle surrounding Sweetgreen,” he says. “We’d like to get into fitness, apparel, anything that falls under a healthy, balanced, and fun lifestyle.” The festival, he says, was just the best way to introduce the world to that lifestyle. The Strokes may have helped sell yogurt this summer, but they could be selling yoga pants within a few years.
Batra, though, says extending a brand into new industries can be tricky. For example, Clorox’s attempt to launch a detergent brand fell flat, perhaps because consumers worried it would bleach out their clothes. Brands with more generic associations diversify more easily. Names like Ralph Lauren or Martha Stewart can be applied to clothes, paints, dishes—almost anything, Batra says.
“Lifestyle brands aren’t locking themselves into one niche,” he says. “They can go wherever the business is.”
Which is good news for the Sweetgreen guys, because you’d be hard pressed to think of a term more pliant than “Sweetlife.”
“The Sweetlife is whatever you want it to be,” Neman says.
Sweetgreen headquarters, just north of Dupont Circle, does a pretty good impression of a Silicon Valley startup, circa just before the tech bubble burst. A ping-pong table stands in for a conference table. A nearby whiteboard records win-loss records for the dozen or so central office staffers. Over the historic fireplace is a large flat-screen TV attached to a MacBook. On display: The seasonal salad for June, a green beans and goat cheese number. Like every MacBook in the office, this one has a Sweetgreen sticker over the glowing apple.
Scattered around the room, for no apparent reason, are musical instruments: a dingy white Yamaha keyboard, a turntable, two guitars. On a windowsill, there’s stack of Nintendo Wii games.
On a Thursday morning last month, Jammet, a short guy with a shaved head who uses the word “sweet” with alarming frequency, is sitting at the ping-pong table chatting with Andrea Northup, the coordinator of D.C. Farm to School, a local nonprofit that brings local food to school cafeterias. Northup has about a foot on Jammet, who is the only Sweetgreen founder who looks old enough to own a multi-million-dollar business.
“Do you wear that shirt everyday?” asks Northup, pointing to Jammet’s Sweetgreen T-shirt, which he’s layered underneath a button-down work shirt. “Pretty much,” says Jammet, good-naturedly. In fact, Neman and Ru wear the same outfit nearly every day, too. They also sport Converse sneakers and silicon Sweetgreen bracelets, “Livestrong”-style.
Today, Northup has come to Sweetgreen to help Jammet plan the “Sweetgreen in the Schools” program, which teaches kids about healthy eating. “Can our staff and interns have VIP free salad cards?” she asks, and then tacks on a request for a metal Sweetgreen canteen. Jammet happily hands over the canteen and promises to look into the free salad cards.
Northup and Jammet get down to the business of planning out the program. Among the class activities the salad chain will sponsor: “Eat the Rainbow,” which will get children brainstorming names of fruits and vegetables and then writing them on a color wheel. An intern scribbles notes in a Sweetgreen Moleskin-style notebook.
A discussion ensues about where to run the summer-school curriculum; Northup suggests working with a school that already has a strong healthy-eating program. Jammet, however, says he wants a challenge. “Let’s pick out a high-needs school,” he says. In the end, they pick Brookland Education Campus and Anacostia’s Savoy Elementary School. In the meantime, Jammet suggests giving out coupons for free salads and then sending the Sweetflow mobile truck to the school. That way, the kids would take their salads home—where parents would presumably be inspired to make delicious salads of their own. According to Northup, parents often send their children to her farm and ask them to bring home mustard greens, but they never seem to want lettuce or tomatoes. “It’s like they don’t know what to do with it,” she says.