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Nathaniel Ru & Sweetgreen’s Reinvention of Fast Food



In each of their locations, long queues are seen as customers wait service from the fast growing fast food restaurant. Sweetgreen offers fresh, local, healthy and organic foods which are what every customer wants to have. Since its launch in 2007, it has grown to be an enterprise that every upcoming entrepreneur would look up to for inspiration given that it started from scratch being run by fresh university graduates. With 40 locations, Sweetgreen seeks to feed more people with better food. It is also backed by investors such as Danny Meyer, Daniel Boulud, and Steve Case.

According to Nathaniel Ru a co-CEO, it is not always about food and probably this is what the traditional chains should learn. Ru states that technology has been the core of their business. The three CEOs have been making use of technology to ensure the smooth running of their business. 30% of their business transactions are done through their website or by mobile app. The three CEOs are also considering restructuring their management systems to enable them to stay close to their customers. The company which has no headquarters recently launched new offices in Los Angeles. According to Ru, the do not believe in big headquarters and all they wanted was to decentralize their headcount. The company closes their corporate offices close to five times a year to allow everyone work in each of its restaurants. They aim to grow nationally and as such, the co CEOs are bi-coastal.

Nathaniel Ru and his co CEOs Jonathan Neman and Nicolas Jammet met during their undergraduate studies at the Georgetown University in an entrepreneurship class. The three had parents who owned businesses and also were first generation immigrants. During their campus days, they felt that there were no healthy eating options around the university and thus focused on the idea. Upon graduating, they launched their first restaurant in August 2007. During the first winter break, they still managed to survive the business in spite of all the students being on vacation and this gave them hope of success in the business.

Apart from the restaurant, Ru and his partners in 2010 launched Sweetlife which is the region’s largest music and food festivals. Ru has a Bachelors degree in finance and a believer of “everything you do should last longer than you”. Ru looks up to Kevin Plank and what he has done with Under Armour.

Nathaniel Ru

Nathaniel Ru is American born entrepreneur, businessman and investor who was raised in Pasadena, California. He is the co-founder and CEO of Sweetgreen restaurants along with fellow colleagues Jonathan Neman and Nicolas Jammet. Ru graduated from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business with a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance. He has been recognized as a key innovator in the food and business industry, named Forbes’ and Inc.’s “30 Under 30”, as well as Food & Wine’s “40 Big Food Thinkers 40 and Under”, along with many other great achievements. Nathaniel Ru commented in an interview with Prologue Profiles, “I think our roles have transitioned from being everything from the CEO to the janitor. My role is branding and marketing for the company and the store design. So it means everything from graphic design to the menus of the website.”


The trio first met while taking an entrepreneurship class and, after graduating, launched Sweetgreen in August of 2007 near their Georgetown campus in Washington DC. In an 2014 interview with Fortune, the three attested that they knew their brand would make it as a company when their business survived an empty campus during winter break. The co-founders felt that their Georgetown area lacked healthy eating options. So they decided on styling a business with a seasonal kitchen, focusing on sustainability, local produce, affordable pricing and great taste. What is Sweetgreen’s business motto? Food that fits your values, tastes, imagination, budget, and your community.


The creators of Sweetgreen believe that communities need delicious, healthy, and eco-friendly dining options. Since Sweetgreen’s opening in 2007, the restaurant brand grew into a chain business that has expanded to over 40 different locations in New York, California, Boston, Chicago. “Hopefully the first thing you see is the open kitchen,” Nathaniel Ru said in an interview with BusinessInsider. There are many items on the menu that offer vegan options, and each location may offer differ produce depending on locality and the season. “Seeing the ingredients, seeing the kitchen and the process behind it is really important to us. We make all of our dressings, all of our products, from scratch every day, with produce delivered each morning, so it’s important to show our guests rather than tell them what we do.”


Sweetgreen is hitting all the key points in today’s food industry: healthy, fresh, organic, and local. In an effort to stay close to its customers, Sweetgreen almost entirely closes its corporate office about five times a year so that everyone can work in their restaurants. “We don’t believe in big corporate headquarters,” Nathaniel affirmed in trio’s Fortune interview, “We wanted to decentralize our headcount.” In an in-depth scoop with Fast Company, Nathaniel can be seen cheering along with restaurant employees to build morale in one of Sweetgreen’s NYC locations. “Jon, Nic and I used to do every role in the company. To scale, we knew we needed to build a team, but it can be hard to let go of some of the work. We’ve learned it’s important to build a team around you sooner than you feel comfortable doing so.” Ru revealed to Fortune. When asked about a CEO he admires, he admitted to being inspired by Under Armour’s Kevin Plank and his ability to create a company that stands for something bigger than gear and apparel. Ru’s favorite restaurant besides Sweetgreen is Little Serow in DC which specializes in Northern Thai cuisine.

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