- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

When Jonathan Neman was a student at Georgetown University, he lived on Wisconsin Avenue, across from the old Little Tavern. He says he often thought someone should turn the space into a business he would like to frequent.

Mr. Neman - along with partners Nicolas Jammet and Nathaniel Ru - put together a vision and a team of investors, and now they are those someones. In the summer of 2007, they created Sweetgreen - an eco-friendly, counter-service restaurant - in the Little Tavern space. Now the 23- and 24-year-old entrepreneurs are expanding their business.

Sweetgreen Dupont opened April 1 on Connecticut Avenue Northwest. Sweetgreen Bethesda opens at the end of the month on Bethesda Row.

Sweetgreen specializes in two things: salads (which also can be made into wraps) and frozen yogurt (one flavor, plain, with many fresh fruit toppings available).

“There are a lot of places you can get this food, but not in this way,” Mr. Jammet says. “There was a gap in the market. This is something we personally wanted - to be able to get a high-quality meal for like $8 or $9 and not have to wait for a waiter.”

Mr. Jammet, who grew up in the restaurant business in New York City, says they also wanted to own a business with integrity. So they designed Sweetgreen with the environment in mind. Their restaurants are part of a handful in the District certified by the Green Restaurant Association. Some of Sweetgreen’s practices that earn them that designation: All containers and utensils are biodegradable and made from corn; the restaurant actively recycles and composts; takeout menus are embedded with wildflower seeds for planting after use; and the company is powered by wind energy after Sweetgreen purchases carbon offsets.

Additionally, recycling is part of the decor. The walls are covered with reclaimed hickory from a Virginia barn, and the communal table and stools are fashioned from reclaimed bowling alleys. Paper goods such as napkins are made from recycled paper.

What is on the plates also has the environment in mind. The restaurant tries to use primarily local produce and other local products for its salads.

Mr. Neman, who studied finance at Georgetown and did his senior thesis on Chipotle’s successful restaurant concept, says Sweetgreen’s simple idea is similar. It offers six $9 signature salads and four “old school” favorites (such as Cobb) for $8. Or a customer can go a la carte and design a salad from an array of toppings, vegetables and cheeses.

Next up: possible expansion elsewhere in the District and suburbs. Sweetgreen also is taking the show on the road; a Sweetflow mobile truck that will dispense frozen yogurt will be introduced this summer. The truck, which was custom-made in the United Kingdom, uses green technology to power the engine and the refrigeration unit.

“It is the modern interpretation of Mr. Softee,” Mr. Neman says, referring to the classic ice-cream-truck business.

While many of their friends are finding their way through entry-level jobs, Sweetgreen’s young owners sometimes seem surprised at their success. They also are kind of thrilled.

“When we started this business, I had signed up for a job with a consulting firm,” Mr. Neman says. “It was a great job, but I wasn’t creating anything. Working in a cubicle was torture. I work more than I did in the corporate world, and I am making less money, but I am creating something. This is a lot more fun.”

• Karen Goldberg Goff can be reached at kgoff@washingtontimes.com.

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