Chicago, IL

Favorite Chicago Salad Spot, Sweetgreen, Hires Osaka, Goes Public

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Sweetgreen, a healthy alternative to traditional fast food, has hired tennis star as first ambassador and went public yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange with a revenue surge of almost three-quarters.
2014 - U.S. Sec. of Labor Thomas Perez & Rep. George Miller meet employees, eat lunch with Sweetgreen founders Nic Jammet, Jonathan NewmanShawn T Moore, U.S. Department of Labor/Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

If you ask those who live in Chicago, what their favorite salad spot is, many will say Sweetgreen. This restaurant was begun by three college students who were looking for a healthy alternative to dining hall meals while at college. After graduating in 2007, they opened the first Sweetgreen location in Washington, D.C. There are now 140 locations around the U.S.

The owner’s values are translated in the different ways they give back to the communities through programs like school meals and block parties. See more about the Sweetgreen story here:

While they don’t deliver to Rogers Park, (they will be opening an Andersonville spot in November on Clark where Hamburger Mary’s used to be) a friend and I ordered pickup last week from a downtown location. While we didn’t love the traffic as we drove downtown, we did love everything we ordered.

Despite it taking us almost an hour to return back home, then to the beach where we had planned to eat, the salads we ordered still looked very fresh and not overly wilted despite the fact they were warm bowls. My friend ordered the Harvest Bowl which had roasted chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, apples, goat cheese, roasted almonds, warm wild rice, shredded kale, and balsamic vinaigrette. I had the Crispy Rice Bowl which consisted of blackened chicken, raw carrots, shredded cabbage, cucumbers, cilantro, roasted almonds, crispy rice, warm wild rice, arugula, lime squeeze, spicy cashew dressing.

Both were seasonal offerings. We loved them. They had more calories that I would have preferred, over 600 each, but they were large enough that we each took some home for the next day so they weren’t eaten in a single sitting.

What Others in Chicago Say About Sweetgreen

Yesterday, in honor of Sweetgreen going public on the New York Stock Exchange, I went downtown to see what people in Chicago thought of the restaurant. I talked informally with a dozen people by the end of the day, starting with an open ended question that asked them to name their favorite healthy food restaurant in Chicago.

While three were from out of town and weren’t familiar with the Chicago restaurant scene and three others gave different answers other than Sweetgreen, six gave Sweetgreen as their answer, with two saying it is their “goto” spot for salad So, of the 9 individuals who were familiar with the Chicago food scene, 6 or 67 percent stated that Sweetgreen was their favorite healthy restaurant.

“It’s a great idea,” one Chicago resident said. (Name withheld upon request.) “If I have to start from scratch, I get too confused so I love the ability to choose from options on the menu then add or change different ingredients until I have something that is exactly what I want. And I don’t have to out and buy a bunch of vegetables then only use some of each for a salad winding up with a bunch of leftovers I know I won’t use.”

Due to the pandemic all those who named the restaurant as their number one healthy option said they’d ordered online. Yet this didn’t seem to affect quality.

“Their app is fantastic and easy to navigate”, a man named Benny (last name withheld for privacy) said. “And the food is just as good and just as healthy as when we used to order in their restaurant.”

“And if anything, I think the food actually came faster than it used to when we ate at the restaurant, but we live just three miles away,” Benny’s girlfriend added.

Sweetgreen Hires Naomi Osaka Before Going Public

In May, in the lead up to going public, Sweetgreen hired tennis great Naomi Osaka to become the chain’s first national athlete ambassador. At 23 she is also being referred to as the chain’s youngest

As part of the deal, Osaka’s go-to order is "being added to Sweetgreen’s app,” which will keep her name associated with Sweetgreen for the foreseeable future. Osaka will also be highly visible as she appears in ads for the brand. in Sweetgreen's marketing initiative featuring Osaka which "includes print ads, as well as six-second, 15-second and 30-second videos that have not yet been released."

Sweetgreen Goes Public on the New York Stock Exchange

This past June, Sweetgreen confidentially filed for an initial public offering (IPO) announcing their plans to go public although the terms of the deal weren't finalized at the time. The previous funding round for the company was valued at almost $1.8 billion. According to the filing for the IPO which was made public Monday, Sweetgreen Inc's quarterly revenue surged by almost three quarters.

The company year-to-date revenue through September 26, was reported to be up 21 percent compared to a loss of 26 percent for the same period the previous year. The company reported revenue of $303 million for 2021through September 26, about 68 percent of which was accounted for by online orders. The companies net loss for 2021 was $86.9 million compared to $100.2 million the previous year.

In order to spur sales growth, Sweetgreen has relied heavily on technology. They also invested in their mobile app even prior to the COVID-19 health crisis to make picking up online orders as quick and easy as possible.

With it looking like COVID will be a part of our society for many years to come, and given that many of the changes the pandemic caused especially in the restaurant business, Sweetgreen intends to place the emphasis for their expansion on online ordering and digital-enabled pickup delivery convenience

The pandemic also led the chain to speed up plans to build restaurants with drive-thru lanes. The first of these is scheduled to open during the winter in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. The company has also been expanding into suburban areas, a departure from their previous focus on urban locals.

Sweetgreen has stated in their filing that the company intends to double the current number of stores over the next three to five years. The company did not reveal how many shares it would offer or the price per share.

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Chicago, IL

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