Nicolas Jammet, one of the three founders of the popular salad restaurant and lifestyle brand Sweetgreen, has had a very good meal at Sqirl. “I thought everything was really simple and straightforward, but it had a bit of a twist to it and was a little tweaked in a really smart way,” he says, on the phone from Los Angeles, about the popular East Hollywood café. Jammet, 30, goes on and on about the brioche French toast, made with local ricotta and jam, and then pauses. “I totally forgot that we are using the same baker for our bread at Sweetgreen,” he says of his new vendor, Clark Street Bread.
Last January, I wrote about the Sweetgreen ethos — a shot of cool into the yoga-toned arm of the sleepy but profitable salad-bar business — and on Monday we picked up the conversation again to talk about the company’s expansion to Los Angeles. Sweetgreen, which now has 30 locations in seven states, has improved the salad-consuming experience greatly not just by setting up shop in uniquely designed spaces, but also by serving a menu that meshes well with their customers’ evolving tastes. Favorites include baby spinach tossed with baked falafel, toasted pita chips and chickpeas, and a bowl of greens that looks more like a bowl of guacamole. Jammet, who was raised by parents working in the New York City restaurant and wine business, is on the pulse of these changing tastes. Which is why it makes perfect sense that Sweetgreen’s first West Coast location — opening Thursday in West Hollywood — shares a baker with Sqirl. Obviously it does! Here’s more from Jammet about the salad days of summer. A very big summer.
So tell me: You’re opening in L.A., which now pretty much makes you a national brand. California was the obvious choice, no?
For my two business partners, it’s kind of a homecoming. A lot of what Sweetgreen was inspired by was this lifestyle here on the West Coast. So after seven and a half years, it’s really exciting to come back here and get to show California what we can do — and to build a Sweetgreen that feels very specific to L.A. We have all new producers, all new farmers.
Right, you’re going to have this 12-month growing season and access to this incredible farming culture in southern California. What are some dishes you’ll be serving that are very unique to your two locations in southern California?
We have a core menu and then we have a seasonal menu, and the seasonal menu changes based on what we’re sourcing from our producers and our farmers, and it changes five times a year. So on the East Coast we have the Harvest Bowl, which has sweet potatoes and kale and other things that feel very East Coast to us, and here we’ve changed it up with some jicama and raisins and some other things that we’re really excited to have close by.
What are some products that are really classic L.A. in your eyes, or that are really southern California, that you maybe wouldn’t use in New York or D.C.?
There aren’t really any greens that we wouldn’t use elsewhere; it’s just that there are some that we’re really excited to use here because they’re so abundant. We added jicama to the menu — we’ll be chopping it fresh in the store every day. And just something like the difference between the strawberries and avocados [here versus the East Coast] is really exciting. The strawberries here are not even at peak, but you bite into them and they’re fully red on the inside. It’s really nice. Actually, a couple of products that we wouldn’t use on the East Coast are more local ones, like Humboldt Fog cheese, which is on our menu right now. We have a really great salad starting on the seasonal menu that has strawberries, Humboldt Fog, fresh sugar snap peas and purslane. It’s really good.
OK, this has been on my mind. Is L.A. a city that buys tossed salads?
I think it’s really exciting to see that the guests and the customers here in L.A. are super health-minded, and they do care about what they eat, and they get excited about this vegetable-centric, freshly made food. So the fact that we’re doing the full-scratch cooking, the fact that we’re sourcing from all these farmers, a lot of whom they know from the Santa Monica farmers’ market. Our strawberry farmer is at the market, our goat cheese — aside from the Humboldt Fog — is from Drake Family Farm, kind of a fixture of the farmers’ market here. So a lot of these customers that come in and see all their favorite farmers at the farmers’ market, they’re deciding to get something that’s made from scratch, it’s delicious and good for the environment, and they’re very excited about it. You know, this is the lifestyle; this is the way people eat in California.
Does L.A. have restaurants like Sweetgreen — you know, build your own salad bowls? I think of L.A. as having two different personalities: It’s a city of great farms and locavore eating, but then it’s a city of a lot of fast food. Fast food is huge there.
It absolutely is. I think that there are a lot of places that serve healthy food out here. There are a lot of salad bars, a lot of these really cool neighborhood one-off places that have built these incredible followings. If you look at something like Joan’s on Third, like what she’s done — it has a cult following. The food is great, you can eat really healthily there and you can trust the food. We want to bring the best of both worlds to what we’re doing. We want to really feel like a part of the neighborhood and the community, but we want people to know that there’s a Sweetgreen level of quality and standards that they can trust, at whatever Sweetgreen they’re going to.